In recent years, there has been increasing attention given to the issue of online subscription upselling, the practice of marketing subscription offers to consumers while they are engaged in other separate ecommerce transactions. For example, a consumer purchasing a book from an online vendor might see an offer for an unrelated “shoppers’ club membership” from an unknown third party while completing the first transaction. Some first-party vendors and third-party subscription upsellers have employed practices that created misunderstandings and consumer complaints as they presented additional offers to consumers engaged in purchasing goods and services. There has also been concern that some vendors and upsellers have not presented consumers with clear and effective means to obtain refunds and discontinue subscription services. The Senate Commerce Committee and several state Attorneys General have launched investigations into some of these practices.
Online subscription upselling is a relatively new practice without clear standards and guidelines for companies to follow in presenting consumers with subscription upselling offers in a clear, consistent, and fair fashion. Companies should be able to advertise and offer add-on services to consumers engaged in ecommerce transactions, as a consumer may judge that the additional promoted service is worth the advertised price. This can be true for services offered directly by the first-party vendor as well as for a new third-party seller who advertises on the first-party website. Because of the increased chance of confusion due to multiple offers, subscription upsellers — and any first-party vendors that work with subscription upsellers — should abide by a set of best practices to present consumers with legitimate, readily understood offers and meaningful consumer protections.