Navigating the Surge in Subscription Declines: An Industry Insider’s View

In the dynamic landscape of consumer subscription businesses, insights are the key to flexibility and growth. As CTO of a leading subscription management platform, I have a unique vantage point into subscription industry payment transaction trends. Some recent findings reveal a compelling trend from the past year: A notable increase in transactions being declined due to the limitation of funds, which poses a crucial challenge to businesses aiming to retain their subscriber base.

The Trend

Data indicates a consistent rise in transaction declines throughout the year, with November 2023 witnessing a staggering 70% increase in renewal invoice decline rates related to a limitation of funds compared to pre-COVID trends. This trend of declines due to the limitation of funds—including both insufficient funds or reaching credit limits—serves as a critical signal for subscription businesses to reevaluate their strategies, focusing not only on overcoming declines and recovering that revenue, but on enhancing overall customer value and improving their relationship with the end user.

The Factors

The surge in declined renewal transactions due to the limitation of funds sheds light on broader macroeconomic factors affecting consumers. Rising interest rates and inflation contribute to an increased cost of living, straining consumer budgets. Mounting debt levels, with American debt surpassing $17 trillion in Q1 2023, and diminished savings further compound the financial stress faced by subscribers. In addition, credit quality is declining as Americans’ reliance on credit cards increases.

The Opportunity

Amidst these challenges, subscription businesses have the opportunity to strengthen their long-term relationships with subscribers. Recognizing the changing spending habits of consumers, businesses can implement strategies such as introducing lower-priced tiers, offering promotions, or allowing subscribers to pause services until circumstances improve. These customer-centric solutions not only foster loyalty but also contribute to a positive brand reputation, made even stronger with frictionless payment experiences.

The Solution

The limitation of funds emerges as the second most common reason for transaction declines—including both insufficient funds or reaching credit limit—and emphasizes the need for thoughtful subscriber lifecycle management and robust revenue recovery strategies.

Subscription businesses must be able to effortlessly configure and launch compelling offers with optimal pricing, upsell one-time products, and attractive discounted promotions. Price is pivotal for signups, especially since price hikes are the main cause of subscription cancellations. Businesses need versatile subscription tools that adapt to evolving subscriber needs—from one-time sales to recurring plans—to attract and retain customers with promotional tools like price ramps, coupons, and pausing.

These strategies should be complemented by robust retry logic. Many companies leverage static rules; yet technology has advanced to provide additional opportunities for review, such as leveraging AI and custom retry logic using previous transaction data to optimize recovery rates. While automating retry processes and employing advanced strategies like card vaulting and dunning best practices, subscription businesses can potentially double their recovered revenue across all decline reasons. For the subscriber, automated recovery strategies can improve their experience, as the subscription business can deliver subscriptions without interruption. This is good for both the business and the subscriber: retaining customers while providing them a seamless payment experience.

The Automation

Automation in retry processes not only enhances revenue recovery but also allows businesses to shift their focus to positive communications and product development unrelated to payments. This strategic shift ensures a seamless service delivery experience, even in the face of increased declines.

The observed uptick in limitations of funds within consumer subscriptions necessitates proactive measures from businesses. Subscription models must evolve to navigate the current economic landscape effectively.

  • Tony Allen

    Tony is responsible for Recurly's technology strategy and building a team focused on customers, collaboration, and continuous improvement. Tony brings more than 20 years of experience leading technology organizations at Fortune 500 companies like PayPal and Verisign, and at early-stage startups like Signio, Inc. At PayPal, he led a number of critical business initiatives, including scaling the Venmo platform and guiding PayPal's effort to expand its reach with Marketplaces. Tony's background has given him ample experience with the challenges and requirements of both building and scaling technology organizations that develop highly secure and reliable platforms. Outside the office, Tony enjoys spending time mountain biking, hiking, and exploring the Bay Area and beyond with his wife and three sons.