Stopping Unwanted Subscription Fees
Small digital businesses often find it hard to keep track of all the products and services that they have subscribed to every month. All they see is money deducted from their accounts, sometimes for services that they don’t need anymore. I wondered if there could be a way to help small businesses keep track of and manage their monthly subscriptions.
This is a design brief from UX challenge that I undertook as a personal project to document my end-to-end design process.
Small businesses often struggle to keep track of the various tools and services they subscribe to every month. With so many tasks to manage and often limited resources, it’s easy to miss or forget about stopping payment for tools they are no longer using. For example, one of the small businesses that I previously freelanced with was paying for two email marketing tools, Mailchimp and Sendinblue, without realizing they were double billed for the same service. The goal of this project was to design a solution to help small businesses better track the tools and services they sign up for, so they can avoid paying for services they no longer need.
I worked on a project in 2021, dedicating 10-12 hours per week for 4 weeks. Through conducting interviews with digital business owners and employees, I collected data to understand their motivations and behaviours towards using digital tools. By analyzing the data, I uncovered insights to inform the product design, which was focused on meeting the identified user goals. I created prototypes and mock-ups to bring my vision and strategy to life.
What’s the problem?
I recognized the lack of available information and aimed to gather insights by conducting interviews with owners and employees at digital businesses to examine their habits and reasons for using digital tools. The goal was to uncover the underlying motivations and challenges faced by these businesses and translate these findings into features that would address their needs. Through this research, I aimed to create a comprehensive solution that effectively addresses the challenges faced by small businesses.
What’s already on the market?
To gather information for this project, I conducted primary research through user interviews and secondary research through online searches. I researched the current market offerings of tools that help businesses track budgets and expenses and analyzed their features to identify any gaps and inform my solution.
I interviewed the COO of a startup with ~40 employees, a managing director of a digital business with 4 employees, and the office manager at a small e-commerce business with 2 employees. The interviews lasted approximately 20 minutes each and I asked them open ended questions about their processes to understand their motivations and behaviours.
“We often come across services we haven’t used in months when we do our annual budget reviews. But, we would have paid for all those services every month.”
“Most subscriptions cost below $20, so it might look like a small amount, but if it’s 5 subscriptions that the business doesn’t need anymore, that’s $100 every month, for no reason!”
“We value our employees’ time more than anything else. So if there’s a tool that will help them do the job much more efficiently than they’re currently doing it, we’ll buy the tool.”
“Unless you meticulously examine credit card statements each month, and are aware of all the services used, price bumps on services—or free trials automatically converted into paid subscriptions—are easy to miss.”
“Communication is often stronger within teams, so other teams or accounts are usually unaware of what the recurring payments are for and everyone just assumes it is something the other team is using.”
“My colleagues and I have multiple responsibilities that go beyond our job titles. I handle social media too. So I have created accounts with multiple online tools that help me create videos and posts and manage our posting schedule. Some are free, some are paid.”
Quotes from the people I interviewed to collect data about their processes to understand their motivations and behaviours while signing up for subscriptions in the workplace
Issues with Free Trials and Team Communication
The free trial model of many products and services can result in unnecessary spending for businesses if they don’t keep track of them. Current policies, such as Mastercard’s requirement for merchants to get cardholder approval, only apply to free trials. In organizations, the team responsible for expenses is often unaware of the different subscriptions signed up by other teams, leading to multiple subscriptions for similar products and an inefficient use of resources. Existing subscription tracking apps are designed for individuals and not businesses and don’t address communication breakdowns between teams or the issue of free trials.
The need for a centralized system
The interviews revealed that in small businesses with around 50 employees, employees often have multiple responsibilities. Although there is cooperation between people and teams, communication is primarily focused on the final outcomes and not on the products and tools that individuals use to achieve those results. Small businesses lacking a centralized system and processes to track the tools, products, services, and applications they use were facing a burden in working efficiently.
Saving time > Saving money
Before I could jump into designing, it was important to define success and understand what the metrics would be to measure success of this product. Based on the insights gathered during the interviews, I created user personas and mapped out user journeys to identify pain points.
Individual Contributor Ida
“I’d love to train team members to use Canva so that they do not have to rely on me for extremely small design tasks!”
About: Ida is the only designer in the marketing department. Some of her tasks include designing company presentations and promo material for marketing. She also handles all of the business social media accounts.
Goals & Ambitions:
- To get promoted to senior designer and manage a marketing design team.
- To upskill and learn variety of industry standard tools and software that would help her do a better job.
- To empower other members of the marketing team with resources that would improve their workflows.
- Having to do extremely small design tasks for other team members that break her workflow.
- Having to work with tools that are not best suited for the job at hand.
“My onboarding process has been a roller coaster ride. I wish my manager provided me with better documentation on what goes on in my team and what is expected in my role!”
About: Nathan is a new graduate who joined his company as a customer support executive last week. He is young, ambitious and tech-savvy. He learns new software easily and understands complex concepts effortlessly.
Goals & Ambitions:
- To gain experience and learn on the job.
- To be identified as a valuable team member.
- Using inefficient or outdated methods to perform a task.
- To having clear instructions on what needs to be achieved.
Multiple Hat Martha
“An important part of my job involves coordinating with many employees for simple but important tasks. I wish there was a better way to do this!”
About: Martha is the office manager at the small business she works at. Martha also takes care of all the HR needs of the 17 employees in the company and helps with sending over receipts and invoices at the end of every month to the company’s outsourced accountant.
Goals & Ambitions:
- To efficiently manage all her responsibilities.
- To move on to a managerial position as the next step in her career.
- Having to reach out to multiple employees with a single question, because no one is able to direct her to the right person.
- Having to keep track of multiple logins to subscription services to download receipts and invoices at the end of every month to send to the accountant.
Keeping track of short term subscription needs
“I can edit this video on Headliner. We just need to upgrade to the “Basic” plan for one month, so I can export all our edited videos without the watermark.”
Small business employees have multiple roles and leverage various products and services to manage their responsibilities. For example, the customer service team may use a video creation software subscription to produce tutorial videos, but someone on the team needs to ensure the subscription was cancelled when it was no longer needed.
Lack of documentation and set systems
“Not sure what this charge is for. I don’t use this service. Assumed it was someone else on the team.”
Small businesses face challenges in retaining knowledge and processes when employees leave the company, leading to potential problems such as uncancelled subscriptions. The lack of documentation by outgoing employees puts the burden on new hires to “figure it out.”
Efficiency lined with inefficiency
“What’s this for? Are we still using this?”
Small businesses face two main pain points when subscribing to various products and services. Unused subscriptions add up over time and can impact their bottom line, and employees are not maximizing their resources as they are unaware of what is available to them.
Streamlining workflows without noise and chaos
The analysis revealed a significant issue in small businesses beyond just tracking and managing subscriptions – the problem of “clutter” in workflows. The accumulation of unused subscriptions was a symptom of the disorganization and chaos in small business processes, due to the absence of dedicated personnel to manage them.
REFRAMING THE PROBLEM
The lack of a centralized tracking system leads to clutter, inefficiency and eventually has a negative impact on the bottom line.
A unified subscription tracker that allows small businesses and its employees to manage and track monthly subscriptions across teams.
Goodbye manual tracking
Trackit features a Chrome extension that layers itself onto web pages. This extension auto-identifies signups and pops up with pre filled information that can be added to the Trackit dashboard.
Personalized dashboard and extension
Small businesses can personalize their Trackit dashboard and extension with their brand colours and logo making it feel like it was built just for them!
Track monthly spend on subscriptions
The dashboard provides an overview of the company’s monthly spend on subscriptions and shows how it compares to previous months. Users can also view a month on month expense comparison for different teams in the organization.
Inbuilt password manager
The Trackit Chrome extension has a feature that is similar to the Google passwords manager, and saves login information to the Trackit dashboard.
HOW I GOT THERE
Designing an efficient subscription tracking system for small businesses
Three primary questions informed my design strategy:
- How do I design a solution that is simple, convenient and accessible?
- What contexts need to be considered?
- What does an efficient subscription tracking system look like?
Early on, it was important to understand the different factors that may influence the user experience. I mapped all the possible concepts that could be temporary or permanent challenges that could affect the way a user interacts with the product. The goal was to design a solution that could scale and extend to any combination of these contexts from the outset.
Streamlining subscription management
During my interviews, I found that most businesses used manual methods such as Google Sheets or paper to track the subscriptions, logins, and expenses. Based on this information, the writer designed a solution in the form of a Chrome extension that could help small businesses track and manage subscriptions and logins. The Chrome extension was chosen as the most feasible solution due to its popularity, customizability, and user-friendly nature. The writer then created wireframes to further elaborate the design and user flow of the solution.
THE DRAWING BOARD
One of the design challenges I had identified was to allow new hires access and understand the different products and services that the company is already paying for. This called for a dashboard of sorts. I started researching existing Chrome extensions and software that were making use of tracking systems or centralized systems.
Two products stood out to me the most:
- Sciwheel, a unified workspace for scientists to collect, write & discuss scientific literature. It features a web-based application, a browser extension, powerful word processing plugins and a mobile application.
- WordPress Users and Blog Features
- Google Password Manager
Drawing inspiration from the interfaces of these digital products, I began sketching wireframes.
A unified tracking system for tools and services
My research insights revealed three major issues: dependence on individuals to manually add subscription details, difficulty in identifying which subscriptions are being used, and inefficiencies in accessing information from manual tracking methods. To address these issues, I arrived at three key ideas: automating the addition of subscription details, adding a feature to track which employee signed up for a subscription, and saving login information and allowing for sharing within the organization.
Working with Google Material Design
As I started working on the high fidelity mockups for my prototype, I had to decide whether to create a completely new UI or use an existing design system. I chose to use Material Design for my Google Chrome extension because it would ensure a seamless integration with the Chrome interface. Additionally, using Material Design may allow users to subconsciously trust the product more because they associate it with Google. Lastly, using Material Design would save me time as I wouldn’t have to create a new visual language and could avoid common design pitfalls
Empowering small business to take control
During the research phase, I understood that the challenge was more than stopping unwanted subscriptions fees. There was a need for a solution that could cope with small business and start-up chaos and contribute to easy and efficient communication and collaboration.
Employees resorted to manual tracking methods, where the responsibility to track a subscription was completely on the individual signing up.
The Chrome extension is designed with a feature that mimics the Google Passwords Manager, that auto identifies sign ups and asks the user if they’d like to save the login details. Trackit works on a similar concept where the extension identifies sign ups and pops up with auto-filled, editable fields that the employee can use to add the new subscription to Trackit. The employee can also choose to share login details with other employees and team members by selecting and adding this information within the extension popup or on their dashboard.
Employees were unaware of who managed or used a certain subscription and had to reach out to multiple people to access the information they were looking for.
When an employee adds a new subscription to Trackit through the Chrome extension, their user details are recorded within the details so that other employees and management can reach out to the right person if they need any information about the subscription. Employees could also set reminders to cancel at a particular date to avoid unnecessary charges. Reminders would be visible to all employees who had login access to a subscription.
Employees were often unaware of what tools and subscriptions were being used within the organization. New hires found it difficult to access this information.
A dashboard that provides an overview of the different categories of subscriptions along with a filter system that helps employees search for tools that could help them with their task at hand. Employees could view all the subscriptions on the “Subscriptions” tab and use the sort and filter features to locate the subscription they are looking for.
Trackit would have employee profiles (similar to HR software like Rise People) that would allow easy management of subscriptions requested by an employee. This would also make it easier to review if any subscriptions needed to be cancelled when an employee left the organization.
PUTTING IT TO THE TEST
An afternoon of guerilla testing
I conducted a guerrilla testing session to gather feedback on my prototype for a collaborative subscription tracking software for small businesses. I chose this method because I wanted to know if my concept was moving in the right direction. I set up a testing session outside a Tim Hortons and offered Timbits in exchange for participation. I recruited 8 random participants between 26 and 37 years old, working in various industries, and asked them to take part in the testing session for 10 minutes in exchange for some Timbits. I explained the concept of Trackit and provided them with a scenario. The goal of the testing session was to collect personal opinions and emotional impressions about the concept and prototype.
You are in charge of creating the company quarterly report. All your data is in an Excel sheet and you need to analyse the data and add your insights to the report. You conduct a Google search to see if there are any tools that would help you perform the task efficiently and you find a software that does exactly what you want. You want this software just for this report and you know you will probably not use it once you’re done with the report. So, you sign up for a free trial with the company credit card, thinking to yourself that you shall cancel the trial in time before it expires and you are charged.
Identifying value and future direction
I recorded participants’ comments as voice notes in Whatsapp on my iphone and sent these to myself. I was able to tag the voice notes and add additional comments about the participant for identification and analysis.
The participants had some trouble with the limited functionality of the prototype but showed excitement about the potential solution to the problem of managing subscriptions. Feedback included questions about additional features and interest in the password manager. Participants suggested notifications to help keep track of action due dates. Further testing, with a more robust prototype, would provide deeper insights into user behavior and experiences.