Feedback for Active.com

Hey Active.com, I know that a lot of races rely on you for registration. And you do some things really well, like handling the spike of traffic when a race opens up for registration. But you do some stuff really badly. Here’s some feedback about things you could do better.

Negative Option Billing?

I always hated it when I go to buy something like movie tickets and the retailer tacks on an attempt to get to you pay for some extra “membership.” They often try to make it look like the membership is part of the normal purchase workflow. The membership will often renew automatically unless you do something to stop it (a so-called “negative option”). The claim is that the membership might save you money somehow, but in practice most people find stuff like this infuriating. So infuriating, in fact, that Congress passed a law against negative-option marketing.

This weekend I was trying to register for the Vineman Half Ironman triathlon. The registration fills up in less than five minutes, which is a recipe for people hurrying to pay for their running slot as quickly as they can. After going through the registration, here’s the final screen that I saw:

Active.com membership offer

For someone anxious to finish registering before a race fills up, this page looks very close to a “click to accept our EULA terms” page with an “I understand” checkbox in yellow and an “Accept” button in darker blue. Paying $64.95 annually to get rebates back in $5 and $10 chunks is a money loser for most people. The plan automatically renews each year, which is the “negative option” that so many people hate. And waiting 30 days to charge the $64.95 will surely make it harder for many people to figure out exactly where that $64.95 charge came from.

This program may be legal, but in my opinion it’s deceptive and poor form. It makes me not trust your company and actively look for alternatives. The running community deserves better than this sort of behavior.

Regular feedback

Okay, that’s the harsh thing I had to say. Now let’s walk through an example of bad usability. First, you need to have search that works well for most cases. Here’s what I saw when I tried to register for the Vineman race. I went to the website and searched for Vineman, then got an automatic suggestion for “vineman half ironman 2015”:

Vineman autosuggest

That looked great, so I clicked on that suggestion and got one result:

Vineman search results

So I clicked on that result and I got this:

Vineman training program

If you look in the lower left, you can see an alert that says “There are 393 people checking out this event.”

Can you spot the issue? Here’s the problem: the event that you’re showing for registration isn’t the actual Vineman triathlon–it’s a virtual training course where you pay $95 to get monthly emails with advice on training for the Vineman.

If I wanted to register for the Vineman and I accidentally got shunted to a virtual coach training course instead–while the actual race sold out in under five minutes–I’d be pretty frustrated. It looks like Active assumed I was in Milpitas, California (that’s not correct, but it seemed harmless enough that I didn’t change the city). Then Active assumed that I wanted races within 50 miles of Milpitas, and so it didn’t show the actual race, just the training course.

The part that makes this bad is where Active shows “393 people checking out this event.” That helps the training course look like the main race. I think there’s a bug in those people counts as well. When I eventually found the official race registration, check out how many people are reported to be checking out the Vineman:

Vineman bad counts

Active is claiming in the lower left that 28,959 people are checking out that page? Really? For perspective, less than 2,200 people completed the Vineman this year, and that’s after clearing out a waitlist. I would believe 29,000 pageviews for that race, but 29,000 unique users sounds really high. I saw the count increasing by a thousand or two people each minute before registration, which also lends credence to the idea that Active is counting pageviews or reloaded pages, not unique users.

24 Responses to Feedback for Active.com (Leave a comment)

  1. I’m tipping there are a lot of online businesses who are ignorant to that law Matt, thanks for pointing it out. Also good to see these sorts of practices taken to task.

  2. Amer Grozdanic

    Wow, what great feedback. Most companies spend a lot of money to receive professional guidance and advice, I will be disappointed if they do not take such detailed feedback and utilize it to better then user experience and the perception of tjeir brand.

  3. Good thing for that company that Cutts doesn’t work at Google anymore, or they would be in trouble.

  4. Awesome Matt, loved reading your experience and analysis for Active.com.

  5. Hey Matt, you should really check out the BillGuard app. It scans your credit and debit card statements for overlooked charges that you made inadvertantly (like this nasty ActiveAdvantage charge and similar ones). When it finds something it lets you know and helps you get your money back with a few taps.

    It also does other cool stuff like use your phone’s location to compare to the places you’ve shopped and detect when someone else might be using your card.

    Sorry for the “spammy” comment… You have to admit it relevant, though!

  6. Thanks for the tip!

    I have been looking for a way to brag about me doing some running (or cycling), without showing off too much (I am not the kind of person to post a picture of myself while posing in training gear).

    But, this was just brilliant, because it 1. Give proper feedback to the event site 2. Inform other people about negative option 3. Bring awareness around the (mis)use of the “checking out the event” count 4. You get to “brag” that you are going to take part in this sporty event:-)

    Hope you managed to register in the end!
    K

  7. Lisa

    Thank you, Matt, for taking the time to write this post. Every time I have to use Active to sign up for a race, I get irritated. I always look for another way to register, and I am always disappointed if I must go through them. And, I’ve been ‘taken’ and unknowingly ordered something I had no intention of ordering. Most of my runner friends complain about them too. Wake up Active and make the improvements Matt suggests!

  8. It seems that your feedbacks are reflected.
    “vineman half ironman 2015″ search from Tokyo shows race registration page first.
    Also numbers of users checking the pages you indicated became reasonable ones, from 393/28959 to 19/502.

  9. I couldn’t agree more. I think I have nearly signed up for the negative option billing a number of times. I hope their market is large enough that they will be forced to adapt or a startup will come along and do this the right way…

  10. Hi Matt. 🙂 I agree about the rebates being a turn off for most people, as $64,95 is already quite a fee to pay annually. But honestly, I find nothing wrong with counting pageviews instead of unique visits; also, pageviews counting is less intrusive than unique visitor counting on the end user. It’s more about a wording problem: something like “This page has been visited X times” would be a better choice of words. Also… what with all the pageviews notifications on all pages? Unless it’s the main event, I find it hard to see a reason for it.

    Well, just my two cents. 🙂

    ~ Luana

    • P M

      If it’s going to count page views it needs to say (in my opinion) ‘This page has been view X times in the last Y minutes’. If I look at a web page 12 times in a day, it does not mean 12 people have looked at that page. I agree with Matt – the way it is at present makes it sound more popular then it probably is, which is misleading.

  11. they are lucky
    you are not there

  12. This tactic seems to be all too common with online retail sites in lots of different industries.

    I’ve noticed that I have to monitor my credit card at least weekly, and I often find strange charges (often recurring) that have been tacked on and that somehow I’ve agreed to (long EULAs and lack of patience on my part are to blame).

    I once bought plane tickets through Orbitz, then found out a few months later that my credit card information had been passed on to one of their partners, who was billing me $10 for a membership that I had no use for.

  13. Christopher

    whats worse I’d that Active does not share any of this ill gotten revenue with the race organizers who brought Active the customer. And they charge a huge processing fee on top of the whole pile.

  14. P M

    Great post! Registrations like this drive me crazy too. Hope this gets read widely!

  15. Joseph McLeod

    Great post. Agree. I’m always afraid they will scam me.

  16. Matt,

    It is a great feedback. But do you think, these kind of things are done by several repuated companies intentionally to get free money.

  17. Paul Dixon

    It could be worse – Ticketma$ter could be running it!

  18. Great article Matt! Frustrating for sure, but a great opportunity for event participants to speak up! I’m an endurance competitor, and I work for an Online Registration company, which saw it’s origin precisely because of how frustrating the registration process is – particularly with Active and all these shenanigans you very well described. The big question is, “Why aren’t participants asking the race organizers to use a different registration platform?”. It seem’s that as participants, we forget WE ARE the CUSTOMERS, and we ultimately have a say in all this!

  19. Joe Meehan

    I agree, I learned about these guerrilla sales moves by Active a couple years ago, when I kept getting monthly charges on my credit card bill. It is a deceitful and dishonest business model, and it is tainting an enterprise segment (individual action sports) that is largely pure and self-policed.

    It’s like those online surveys promising you up to a $50 reward for completing them, only to learn at the end that the reward comes in the opportunity to save $5 off a subscription of 10 different magazine options.

    I almost refuse to register or consider any event that uses Active. I have to REALLY want to run an event that uses them.

    Thank you for shining a bit of light on this dark corner.

  20. Mary Kinney

    I ran in a Color Run in 2012, and just now noticed my credit card had been charge 64.95 in december. I called to check on this and was incredulous to discover that because I did not check the no thanks box, they have been automatically taking out his sum annually. After waiting on hold for a long time, I talked to a rep. He says they emailed me, (I no have that particular email) and he will refund my money, but not sure if he can go back two years. I am happy to see others have posted. This practice is so unethical.

  21. Amer Grozdanic

    Just wondering, was there anything done by them in response to this post? – Amer Gorozdanic

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