Subscription Box Business? Consider California’s Auto-Renewal Law (“ARL”)

August 16, 2014

Update July 8, 2018

Effective July 1, 2018, new California law requires a business that makes an automatic renewal offer to include in the offer a clear and conspicuous explanation of the price changes at the end of trial periods. The law also prohibits a business from charging a consumer’s credit or debit card, or the consumer’s account with a 3rd party, for an automatic renewal or continuous service that is made at a promotional or discounted price for a limited period of time without first obtaining the consumer’s consent to the agreement. The law also specifies that if the automatic service offer or continuous service offer includes a free gift or trial, the business is required to disclose how to cancel, and allow the consumer to cancel, the automatic renewal or continuous service before the consumer pays for the goods or services. The law also requires a consumer who accepts an automatic renewal offer or continuous service offer online to be allowed to terminate the automatic renewal or continuous service exclusively online (with other specifications).

Subscription Box Business? Consider California’s Auto-Renewal Law (“ARL”)

Subscription boxes are taking over the online marketplace.  There are now subscription box companies for almost anything imaginable.  Among of the most popular subscription box enterprises is Birchbox and Blue Apron.  With all the hype, is it worth it to start your own subscription box business? What are the potential legal issues and policies that you need to consider as a business owner?

If you are not aware of this craze, subscription boxes is a fast growing business model where companies send monthly supplies of beauty items, healthy foods, jewelry, and tech items right to your door each month.  The possibilities are endless.  Who doesn’t love to get a surprise package in the mail? It essentially taps into the same experience as getting hand-made care packages from Mom when you are far away from home at college.  It is fun! The businesses conduct an online survey of customer’s tastes and preferences to determine what items will be included in the monthly shipment.  Surveys range from simple to complex in order to cater to target customer’s needs.

These monthly subscription prices range from $10 to hundreds of dollars depending on the merchandise.  It is definitely a very profitable business model. Should you get on board? What about those of you with existing subscription box businesses? All this excitement, however, can come to an end should your customers decide that they are not happy with their subscription box supplies.

Before starting a subscription box business, make sure to carefully craft cancellation policies.  Check to make sure you know exactly what you are selling, and clearly disclose the policies to customers in order to protect the reputation of your company. For example, avoid advertisements which claim that you can cancel at any time.  If there are exceptions to this claim in your policy, please avoid potentially misleading statements.

The company Birchbox advertises that the subscription can be cancelled at anytime.  However, upon further reading of the cancellation policy, this in only true of you have a month-to-month subscription.  Those who have subscribed to a yearly subscription may only cancel during the first month of the year long subscription.  While the language of the policy may not be technically misleading, customers tend to view such policies as unfair.  It is better to disclose upfront the fact that yearly subscribers can only unsubscribe during the first month, rather than anger customers who honestly believe they can cancel at anytime.  Full disclosure of cancellation policies in a clear, concise manner is the best way to avoid litigation.

Remember to address the company’s yearly and monthly subscriptions renewal procedures.  If any subscription is automatically renewed at the end of the subscription period, be sure to explicitly disclose this to customers.  Customers will not appreciate their subscriptions renewed automatically without their knowledge.  Do everything possible to clearly state any policies dealing with automatic renewals.

  • Consider California’s Auto-Renewal Law (“ARL”), Business & Professions Code sections 17600-17606.  Enacted in 2010, ARL aims to end the ongoing charging of consumers, without their explicit consent, for continuing product delivers (such as subscription boxes or magazine deliveries).  ARL makes it unlawful to:  1) fail to present automatic renewal terms in a “clear and conspicuous manner” before the subscription is fulfilled, and in close proximity to the request for consumer consent; 2) charge the consumer’s credit card, debit card, or third party account without first obtaining the consumer’s affirmative consent to any auto-renewal provisions; or 3) fail to provide consumers with a retainable acknowledgement containing the automatic renewal terms and cancellation information.
  • ARL also provides that businesses must also provide a toll free number “or another cost-effective, timely, and easy-to-use mechanism for cancellation” and conspicuous notice of material changes in the renewal policy.
  • Non-compliance with ARL results in an unconditional gift made to the customer of whatever supplies the company has sent AND subject the business to civil liability.

See recently filed ARL cases Bleak v. Spotify USA, Inc., (N. D. Cal. Case No. CV-13-5653) and Goldman v. Dropbox, Inc. (S.F. Superior Court Case No. CGC-14-537731) for possible scenarios.

Other issues may arise in “Referral Program” redemption points.  Many subscription box companies allow customer to earn “referral points” which are earned by getting friends to subscribe.  These referral points can then be spent to purchase products on the website.  One common customer complaint is that they are not able to redeem their referral points when the time comes to make a purchase.  Companies are usually prompt when addressing these complaints, but usually the difficulty in redemption is attributed to “technical difficulties”.  It has been speculated that companies are making it harder to redeem referral points.  You do not want to be subject to this type of speculation.  Whatever, the case may be, if you start a subscription box business, you’re your attorney review your policies to ensure that there is nothing that could be construed as unfair dealing.  Any customer complaints will most likely be reported to the Better Business Bureau, which could adversely affect your business.  Also, to avoid litigation keep in mind the basic elements of fraud: 1) a false statement, 2) knowledge of the defendant that the statement is untrue, 3) intent on the part of the defendant to deceive the alleged victim, 4) justifiable reliance by the alleged victim on the statement, and 5) injury to the victim as a result.

Subscription boxes offer a convenient and fun service, and a great potential business. Just be sure that your policies are clear and in compliance with ARL before jumping on board.

Sarah Felong

By

Sarah Felong is a California Licensed attorney. Graduating from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2013, she also holds a Master's Degree in Vocal Performance and a Bachelor of Arts in Music Humanities from the University of California, San Diego.

Get Business Legal Updates

Please provide your full name.
Please provide a valid email address.
We respect your privacy, and we will never share your information. Unsubscribe at any time.

Related Publications

In this podcast episode, Matt and Nasir breakdown the legal issues of the subscription industry’s business on the internet. Resources A good 50-state survey for data breach notifications as of July 2018. California Auto-Renewal Law (July 2018) Privacy Policies Law by State Why Users of Ashley Madison May Not Sue for Data Breach [e210] Ultimate…

May 28, 2019

On this episode of the Ultimate Legal Breakdown, Nasir and Matt go in depth with the subscription box business. They discuss where subscription box companies have gone wrong(4:30), the importance of a specifically tailored terms and conditions(6:30), how to structure return policies (11:45), product liability concerns (14:45),the offensive and defensive side of intellectual property (19:00),…

April 3, 2017

Nasir and Matt talk about JustFab’s crazy valuation for a company that offerssubscription based clothes. They also get into topics of the evils of subscription model pricing and cancellation policies.

October 7, 2015

In a world where you can find anything you want, it is infinitely more difficult to find what you want. It is the land of curation that brings joy to monthly subscribers around the world. The niche subscription box business is a great opportunity for business owners with a passion, but like any business, a web of…

January 6, 2015
Legally Sound Smart Business cover art

Legally Sound Smart Business

A business podcast with a legal twist

Legally Sound Smart Business is a podcast by Pasha Law PC covering different topics in business advice and news with a legal twist with attorneys Nasir Pasha and Matt Staub.
Apple Podcast badge
Google Podcast badge
Spotify Podcast badge

Latest Episodes

July 14, 2021

Through a five-round championship bout, Matt travels to Texas from California to determine which state is better for business. Will it be a knockout with a clear winner or will it go to the scorecards?

June 16, 2021

Covered in this episode of Legally Sound Smart Business are some typical business mistakes blunders small businesses often make and how to avoid them. Blunder #1: Copying and pasting agreements It may sound like a good idea at the time, but this blunder comes with hidden pitfalls. Having an attorney draft terms that are specific…

February 4, 2021

How you terminate an employee can make the difference between a graceful transition to avoidable negative outcomes like a dramatic exit or even a lawsuit. We gathered a panel of experts and asked them – is there a “right way” to fire an employee? We would like to thank our guests for this episode: Amr…

December 2, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned nearly every aspect of life on its head, and that certainly holds true for the business world. In this episode, Matt and Nasir explain how the early days of the pandemic felt like the Wild West and how the shifting legal playing field left a lot open to interpretation and…

November 16, 2020

After plenty of ups and downs, our buyer has finally closed on the purchase of their business. While we’re marking this down in the ‘wins’ column, it never hurts to review the game tape. In this final episode, our hosts, Matt Staub and Nasir Pasha, return to the deal almost a year later to reflect…

September 15, 2020

The ink is drying on the signature line and things are looking great for our buyer. After so much hard work, the finish line is in sight and the cheering within ear shot.   Though the landlord is still serving friction, things seem safe to move forward and for now, our buyer will be keeping…

July 31, 2020

Though things are coming along well, the journey would not be interesting if it was purely smooth sailing. After our buyer opens escrow, they are forced to push the closing date back when suddenly a letter from an attorney was received claiming the business, we are buying has a trade mark on the name!  Now…

June 12, 2020

With frustration at an all-time high and professionalism at an all-time low, our friend the Buyer has “had it” with the Seller and quite frankly their lack of knowledge. At present our Buyer is rightfully concerned that the latest misstep from our loose-lipped Seller will threaten not only the entire operation of the businesses but…

May 11, 2020

As we go deeper into the buying process, we start to uncover more challenges from our seller and encounter some of the wrenches they are tossing our way. When we last left off in episode three our team was knee deep in due diligence for our buyer, had already penned and signed the Letter of…

April 4, 2020

One word–interloper! When a new mysterious broker enters the transaction and starts to kick up dust, Nasir and Matt take the reins. The seller signed off on the letter of intent (see episode 2), yet this “business broker” serves only friction and challenges by refusing to send financials, whilst demanding more of a firm commitment…

April 4, 2020

Just as most stories and deals start out, everyone is optimistic, idealistic and full of hope for clear skies. It’s a perfect outlook with a perfect setup for the ups and downs yet to come. Peek further behind the curtain and into the first steps of buying a business: the letter of intent. After the…

April 4, 2020

When a savvy buyer hears opportunity knocking to purchase a prime positioned business, she decides not to go it alone and taps in the professionals to help navigate what could potentially be a fruitful acquisition. “Behind the Buy” is a truly rare and exclusive peak into the actual process, dangers, pitfalls and achievements, that can…

August 7, 2019

GrubHub is subject to two “matters of controversy” that have likely become common knowledge to business owners: “fake” orders and unfriendly microsites.

May 28, 2019

In this podcast episode, Matt and Nasir breakdown the legal issues of the subscription industry’s business on the internet. Resources A good 50-state survey for data breach notifications as of July 2018. California Auto-Renewal Law (July 2018) Privacy Policies Law by State Why Users of Ashley Madison May Not Sue for Data Breach [e210] Ultimate…

March 12, 2019

In recording this episode’s topic on the business buying process, Matt’s metaphor, in comparing the process to getting married probably went too far, but they do resemble one another. Listen to the episode for legal advice on buying a business.

December 3, 2018

Nasir and Matt return to discuss the different options available to companies looking to raise funds through general solicitation and crowdfunding. They discuss the rules associated with the various offerings under SEC regulations and state laws, as well as more informal arrangements. The two also discuss the intriguing story about a couple who raised over…

July 24, 2018

Flight Sim Labs, a software add-on creator for flight simulators, stepped into a PR disaster and possibly some substantial legal issues when it allegedly included a Trojan horse of sorts as malware to combat pirating of its $100 Airbus A320 software. The hidden test.exe file triggered anti-virus software for good reason as it was actually…

April 17, 2018

Attorneys Matt Staub and Nasir Pasha examine Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearings about the state of Facebook. The two also discuss Cambridge Analytica and the series of events that led to the congressional hearings, the former and current versions of Facebook’s Terms of Service, and how businesses should be handling data privacy. Full Podcast Transcript NASIR:…

March 10, 2018

The Trump presidency has led to a major increase in ICE immigration enforcement. It’s critical for business owners to both comply with and know their rights when it comes to an ICE audit or raid. Nasir, Matt, and Pasha Law attorney Karen McConville discuss how businesses can prepare for potential ICE action and how to…

February 5, 2018

New years always bring new laws. Effective January 1, 2018, California has made general contractors jointly liable for the unpaid wages, fringe benefits, and other benefit payments of a subcontractor. Nasir and Matt discuss who the new law applies to and how this affects all tiers in the general contractor-subcontractor relationship. Click here to learn…

January 2, 2018

With a seemingly endless amount of new mattress options becoming available, it is unsurprising that the market has become increasingly aggressive. As companies invest in more innovative solutions to get in front of customers, review sites, blogs and YouTube videos have moved to the forefront of how customers are deciding on their mattresses and how…

December 7, 2017

In recent months explosive amounts of high profile allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and varying acts of inappropriate behavior have transcended every sector of our professional world. With a deluge from Hollywood and politics, and the private workforce, accusations have inundated our feeds and mass media. This harassment watershed has not only been felt within…

November 16, 2017

If you are not familiar with the EB-5 program started in 1990 to give green cards to certain qualified investors in the United States, then you may not have been alone a few years ago. Currently, the EB-5 program has since exploded since its inception and now hits its quotas consistently each year. The program…

October 10, 2017

Government requests come in multiple forms. They can come in as requests for client information or even in the form of investigating your company or your employees. Requests for Client Information General Rule to Follow Without understanding the nuances of criminal and constitutional law and having to cite Supreme Court cases, any government requests for…

August 24, 2017

Nasir and Matt suit up to talk about everything pertaining to employee dress codes. They discuss the Federal laws that govern many rules for employers, as well as state specific nuances in California and other states. The two also emphasize the difficulty in identifyingreligious expression in dress and appearance, how gender-related dress codes have evolved…

June 28, 2017

Nasir and Matt discuss the life cycle of a negative online review. They talk about how businesses should properly respond, how to determine if the review is defamatory, the options available to seek removal of the review, how to identify anonymous reviewers, whether businesses can require clients to agree not to write negative reviews, and…

June 7, 2017

On this episode of the Ultimate Legal Breakdown, Nasir and Mattbreak down social media marketing withguests Tyler Sickmeyer and Kyle Weberof Fidelitas Development. They first discuss contests and promotionsand talk about where social media promotions can go wrong,when businesses are actually running an illegal lottery, and the importance of a soundterms and conditions. Next, they…

April 3, 2017

On this episode of the Ultimate Legal Breakdown, Nasir and Matt go in depth with the subscription box business. They discuss where subscription box companies have gone wrong(4:30), the importance of a specifically tailored terms and conditions(6:30), how to structure return policies (11:45), product liability concerns (14:45),the offensive and defensive side of intellectual property (19:00),…

February 1, 2017

Nasir and Matt discuss the suit against Apple that resultedfrom a car crashed caused by the use of FaceTime while driving. They also discuss howforeseeable use of apps can increase liability for companies. Full Podcast Transcript NASIR: Hi and welcome to Legally Sound Smart Business! I’m Nasir Pasha. MATT: And I’m Matt Staub. Two attorneys…

January 5, 2017

The guys kick in the new year by first discussing Cinnabon’s portrayal of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia soon after her death, as well as other gaffes involving Prince and David Bowie. They alsotalk about right of publicity claims companies could be held liable for based on using someone’s name or likeness for commercial gain.

December 22, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the recent incidentat a Victoria’s Secret store where the store manager kicked out all black women after one black woman was caught shoplifting. They then each present dueling steps businesses should take when employees are accused of harassment.

December 8, 2016

Nasir and Matt return to talk about the different types of clients that may have outstanding invoices and how businesses can convert unpaid bills to getting paid.

November 10, 2016

After a long break, Nasir and Matt are back to discuss a Milwaukee frozen custard stand that is now revising it’s English only policy for employees. The guys also discuss how similar policies could be grounds for discrimination and what employers can do to revise their policies.

October 6, 2016

The guys discuss the new California law that allows actors to request the removal of their date of birth and birthdays on their IMDB page and why they think the law won’t last. They also discuss how age discrimination claims arise for business owner.

September 29, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the racial discrimination claims surroundingAirbnb and how it’s handled the situation. They also discuss some practical tips for businesses experiencing similar issues.

September 8, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss whyAmazon seller accounts are getting suspended and banned without notice and how business owners can rectify this situation through a Corrective Action Plan.

August 25, 2016

Nasir and Matt talk about the accusations surroundingfashion giant Zararipping off the designs of independent artists like Tuesday Bassen and howsmaller companies can battle the industry giants.

August 18, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss Brave Software’s ad replacing technology that has caught the eye of almost every national newspaper and has a potential copyright infringement claim looming. They also welcome digital marketing expert Matt Michaelree to speak on the specifics of what Brave is attempting to do and whether it has the answers moving forward.

July 28, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Gretchen Carlson against Fox CEO Roger Ailes. They also talk aboutthe importance of sexual harassment training and properly handling such allegations in the office.

July 15, 2016

Nasir and Matt talk about the changes at Starbucks that have led to many disgruntled employees and customers.

June 23, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the criminal charges facing FedExinvolving the alleged transportation of illegal drugs. They also talk about how business owners should address working with customers that may be breaking the law.

June 15, 2016

The guys return after a long break to discuss why Yahoo is auctioning off over 3,000 patents and how this decision will affect the longevity of the company.

May 25, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the increase in the salary thresholdfor exempt employees and how employerscan try to avoid paying overtime as a result.

May 18, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss the Baltimore law that makes it very difficult to operate food trucks in the city. They also discuss all the legal restrictions tohaving a food truck.

May 11, 2016

Matt listens to Nasir recap the developing battle in his hometown of Vandalia, Ohio over whether a Dunkin Donuts can move into a location in close proximity to a local favorite donut shop. They then discusswhether the issue is more legal or personal.

May 9, 2016

The guys kick off the week by discussing a Nevada employee who is claiming she was fired for not supporting the Scientology beliefs of her employer.

April 27, 2016

The guys discuss the massive floods in Houston,how employers responded, and why one meteorologist became a local hero. They also discuss the steps businesses should take in preparing for storms outside the workplace.

April 20, 2016

The guys discuss the boycott of Amazon over the products of an unnamed presidential candidate. They also talkabout how a business should handle a boycott and whether it’s possible to exit one unscathed.

April 13, 2016

Click here to read HubSpot’s response on this topic. Nasir and Matt discuss the trend in startups to compensate programmers and other early employees with stock options and how the company culture at HubSpot isn’t what it seems.

April 6, 2016

Nasir and Matt discuss various lawsuits against social media platforms in which users are accused of artificially inflating their social currency.

We represent businesses.
That’s all we do.

Oh, and we love it.

We love our work. We love reviewing that lease for your new location. We thrive on closing that acquisition that nearly fell through. We’re fulfilled when we structure a business to grow, raise capital, and be legally protected.

We focus on developing close relationships with our clients by being like business partners. A partner who provides essential, personalized, proactive legal support.

We do all of this without utilizing the traditional billable hour model. You pay for the value we bring, not the time spent on calls, emails, and meetings.

Our team is made up of attorneys and staff that share these values and we are retained by clients who want the same.

Pasha Law PC operates in the states of California, Illinois, New York, and Texas.

Meet Our Team

Fractional General Counsel Services

Pasha Law Select offers the expertise of a high-end general counsel legal team for every aspect of your business at a fixed monthly rate. Pasha Law Select is deliberately designed to allow our legal team to be proactive, to anticipate, and to be comprehensive in serving our clients. To be great lawyers, we need to know our clients. We can’t know our clients unless we represent a select number of clients in the long-term. This is Pasha Law Select.

Learn More