Imagine you ask for a free trial of a service, but instead of just taking the risk that you might forget to cancel before it’s over and end up paying for a month you didn’t want, you end up paying for a ” surprise fine” of hundreds of euros in exchange for canceling and stopping using the product.
This is the day-to-day story of Adobe CC plans and how they have caught more than one by surprise who do not know how to escape from them. This experience is well-documented by many users, and as someone who has personally experienced it and managed to escape from it, I can rate the experience a totally horrible 0/10.
Master class on dark patterns
As someone who has been using different Adobe programs for years, I usually have nothing but good things to say about them. I’m a perennial fan of things like Lightroom and Photoshop, and I find Adobe CC’s photography plan pretty decent. Now, the ways Adobe sells its offerings to you and presents information to you before you sign up, has a lot of room for improvement.
In an Internet dominated by services and subscriptions, it is normal for companies that offer this type of product to also offer free trial periods, but it is also a common occurrence that they use these to hide traps, make you pay, or getting caught up in unexpected commitments that can put a big dent in your bank account.
“One month free”: the hidden pitfalls in testing services and products on the Internet
What Adobe does is pretty nasty, to say the least. Here’s the normal process to get started with an Adobe CC 7-day free trial:
The relevant information is limited to “7 days free, then 60.49 euros per month” sounds good…
When you enter the Adobe Creative Cloud website, the biggest thing you’ll see will be the “Free Trial” and “Buy Now” buttons. If you click on the free trial you will see an image like the one above. There you have the relevant information about all the applications that it offers you in the plan, the storage in the cloud and the price of the month of subscription after your 7 days free. All good for now.
“Let’s try to put the most important with the smallest possible font size”
The next step is to enter your email address below a huge message that invites you to start your 7-day free trial. As usual, the fine print is where it’s at, and it’s the one that the least people read. You will notice that by default the recommended plan is the “Monthly payment annual plan” and that they clearly warn you that billing will only start after your free trial ends. All good, nobody is going to charge you anything and you have a week to decide.
After reading the itemized price, and the date they will start charging you, everything seems great. But if you keep reading further down, in the lower case, you’ll see a notice that says: “Cancel before x day for a full refund and avoid a fee.” Next to this is a link that offers more information and directs you to this help page that explains how to cancel the plan.
So far we’ve made more clicks than a user usually does, gone through four different pages and still don’t know anything about the surprise “fine”
New opportunity to look at the fine print before entering your card details
When you have decided to start the test, you will have to enter your bank details. Again, there is fine print that says “By starting your 7-day free trial, you are starting a subscription and agree to the subscription and cancellation terms“.
At the end of the cancellation conditions is this gem
If you decide to click on those important cancellation conditions, you will have to scroll down to the last paragraph to find the most important part of this story: if you cancel after 14 days, you will be charged the amount of 50 % of your remaining contractual commitment.
Paying a subscription for not canceling a trial period on time hurts, but it has a solution: it can be recovered by claiming
This doesn’t sound good at all, but it’s even worse than it sounds. No one will blame you if despite everything we have read you still have not noticed the extent of your “contractual commitment”. And this is another of the worst parts of this whole process. Let’s go back to the plans:
Interesting subscription plans, great savings on annual plans…
Let’s remember that the plan that sounded best and the one that is set by default is the “Monthly payment annual plan”. This in Spain, costs 60.49 euros per month, much less than the “Monthly Plan” of 90.74 euros per month. There is 30 euros difference per month, 360 euros more per year.
One would think that one would have to be foolish to choose the Monthly Plan which doesn’t seem to have any additional benefits. While the “Annual plan, prepaid”, lets you pay for a full year at once and the price ends up being the same as the “Annual monthly payment plan”.
The really important detail is what “Annual monthly payment plan” really means, and it is the fact that by using that plan you have committed to a 12-month contract with Adobe CC and opt out of it requires paying the company.
Cancellation penalty per month based on the value of an Adobe CC subscription in North America dollars
Depending on which month of your “annual contract” you go, you will have to take out the calculator to know how much money you owe Adobe for not going to read its small print, which I recommend you read in This help page about canceling Creative Cloud subscriptions will not take out the account for you.
Basically, even if you cancel Adobe CC, you’ll still need to pay Adobe half the value of your subscription for every month that remains out of the 12 you agreed to. For example, if you want to cancel after having used your account for a month, you must pay, at the current price, nothing more and nothing less than 332.69 euros.
Canceling an Adobe CC “Pay Monthly Annual Plan” after the first month of use costs more than 300 euros
This is because those more than 300 euros are half of the 11 months you have left on your “contractual commitment”. The best of all is that after paying that “cancellation fee” you will no longer have access to your Creative Cloud applications and most of the services included in your Creative Cloud subscription. Paid Creative Cloud, and your account will become a free Creative Cloud membership that anyone who has never paid a dime in their life can use.
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All this is even worse if you live in countries like Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Venezuela, or the rest of this list. In that case you can only cancel by contacting Digital River customer service and not through your CC control panel.
Is there a way out of this horror?
Changing the plan is a way to reopen the 14-day cancellation window
There are options. In my own experience a couple of the “easy” ones include: changing the payment method to a card that just doesn’t have any money in it and after a while Adobe cancels your account and leaves you alone. Obviously you won’t be able to use that Creative Cloud account again until you pay Adobe.
Another option, and one that for a while wasn’t an option (or sometimes fails), is to switch to a different plan, preferably a cheaper one that doesn’t include all apps. What this also does is re-enable the option to “cancel your new plan” within the infamous 14 days to avoid the cancellation fee.
If there was an award for the worst way to lure your users into a subscription in a relatively deceitful way, we could easily nominate Adobe. What the company does is not something new, but it is an excellent example of the use of dark patterns to deceive us by making less visible the information that we will least like. Including nice details like you can’t turn off auto-renewal on your contract, it’s another obligation you agree to by subscribing.