FEATURE30 March 2020

The choice of subscription

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Do we keep paying for things that we no longer use or want because they fit with some idea we have about our own identity? Jane Bainbridge reports on research exploring the psychology of subscriptions


From TV services to meal boxes, gym memberships to pet products – paying a monthly subscription has become an established business model across multiple sectors. This form of commerce has grown by more than 100% every year for the past five years and generates revenues of more than $2.6bn annually, according to McKinsey.

But despite the rapid growth and expansion of subscriptions, consumer psychology has not necessarily kept up in terms of understanding the distinct motivations for this type of consumption.

With regular payments set up, there is a disconnect between receiving the product or service and parting with one’s money. As a result,  payments often continue beyond the item being used – think of all those gym membership direct debits that continue to be processed without so much as a weight being lifted or length swum.

But it was more than just failing to cancel a membership that drew Jennifer Savary, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Arizona, to this ...