Subscribe and save: Who do VIP memberships really benefit?

Retailers like Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty, Lizzo’s Yitty, and more offer subscribers special deals, but at what cost?

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Once upon a time, the best deals came as a result of holidays and seasonal changes; now, they come from VIP membership programs. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

In today’s economy, shoppers are always looking for a good sale. It’s almost as if seeing the original price slashed and replaced with a reduced number boosts a consumer’s serotonin and partially justifies their purchases. Once upon a time, the best deals came as a result of holidays and seasonal changes; now, they come from VIP membership programs. 

Designed to foster a sense of brand loyalty, these programs give customers access to exclusive discounts and perks in exchange for paying a membership fee. For consumers who shop with these brands regularly, the VIP club is the way to go. However, if you don’t plan on buying a new product every month, these programs can feel more like a trap than an exclusive club. 

While hundreds of retailers have loyalty programs, brands like Yitty, Fabletics, and Savage x Fenty follow the VIP model. 

“The reason why I actually never bought Savage x Fenty is because I never actually understood the website,” said podcaster Prinny Rae on the “Style & City Diaries” podcast.

“[The] weird subscription thing that everyone is like, ‘I’m being charged monthly and I’m not getting anything,’” her co-host, Amber, added. 

While the co-hosts’ confusion may have saved them from joining the program, other consumers fell victim to the site’s confusing yet alluring language. Here’s the thing: When shoppers go onto these brands’ websites, the first price they see under a product’s image is the VIP members’ discounted price. It is only when clicking on the item that they see the non-membership price, which is often double the members’ price and, in some cases, more expensive than the cost of joining the VIP program. 

And when looking at the details of being a member, it doesn’t seem so bad. Typically, these subscriptions come with a monthly fee, which converts to store credits for shoppers to use. With options to skip whenever they like, members can opt out of the monthly charge without having to cancel their entire membership. While this sounds nice in theory, customers have reported issues with the subscription’s skip option and difficulties when trying to cancel their membership. 

In 2022, Rihanna’s lingerie brand was fined $1.2 million following a consumer protection lawsuit in California. 

“Consumers have a right to know upfront what they are paying for and how often,” Santa Clara Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Deng said in a statement, noting Savage x Fenty’s cooperation on the matter. “Businesses have a duty to be transparent about their automatic renewal charges.”

While brands should always prioritize customer protection, here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you’re faced with a VIP membership offer: 

  • Use your credit card instead of a debit card to sign up for these programs. Experts found that credit cards offer more protection against fraud compared to debit cards. So, if for whatever reason you are wrongfully charged on a month that you skipped, you can lean on your credit card company to fight against the issue if customer service gives you a hard time. 
  • Set a reminder a few days before your billing date, so that you don’t forget to skip a month when things get hectic. 
  • Evaluate yourself as a consumer. How often do you find yourself buying the types of products offered by the brand? How often do you shop with that specific retailer? 

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