Feedback for Harvard Business Review: please improve your online customer experience

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Feedback for Harvard Business Review: please improve your online customer experience

Harvard Business Review, what a pity: a horrible online customer experience for such great contents

I still can’t believe how complex, frustrating and time consuming has been my digital purchase experience with Harvard Business Review. Here my feedback and some recommendations to improve it.

I feel torn about whether to report my negative experience with a great magazine like Harvard Business Review or not. I mean, HBR generates high quality contents that I really enjoy and love, but the customer experience I had to subscribe to their magazine is the worst I’ve ever had. After 5 months trying to solve an issue with my subscription, I had to ask to cancel my account and to be refunded.

Just to give you an idea: do you remember the funny video from Google Analytics about the Online Checkout? Well, my experience with Harvard Business Review was even “funnier”.

Honestly, I believe the poor digital experience they provide does not macth with the premium contents they provide and it can damage their brand positioning or at least their NPS, so here my feedback for HBR with some suggestions at the end of the page.

Everything started at the beginning of July 2016 and hopefully I’m about to get my money back now, December 2016. The facts can be resumed in 5+1 main points:

  1. I had a complex digital purchase experience that ended in a never ending loop among 3 different websites
  2. The system generated 1 login credential associated to 2 different accounts; a mess!
  3. I was bombed of payment notification via ordinary mail where I was asked to pay offline by sending my credit card details to The UK via ordinary mail
  4. Once I paid, HBR cancelled the account associated to my payment and kept the other
  5. I asked to get refunded and they sent me a cheque at home in Dollars.. I live in Spain and I paid in Euros!
  6. There a last funny extra point that doesn’t have anything to do with HBR, but it’s a consequence of the check.. keep reading

Harvard Business Review refunded Gianluca Stamerra

1) I had a complex digital purchase experience that ended up in a never ending loop among 3 different websites

  1. I went to where I already had an account
  2. When I clicked on subscribe, I was redirected to and I was asked to create a new account because the two websites are not synchronized
  3. When I clicked on subscribe (again) I was redirected to
  4. ..and then when I clicked on “Clicked here to renew your subscription”, because as I said I already had an account, I was redirected again.. and so on and so on..
  5. At the end, I don’t know how, I managed to suscribe and at the moment to pay, I wa asked: do you want to pay now or later? I clicked on “later” while wondering what later “meant”. Two steps later? Would I receive an email to complete the payment? That was the beginning of a 5 months nightmare!

Harvard Business Review complext purchase experience

2) The system generated 1 login credential associated to 2 different accounts; a mess!

  1. Because of that fantastic loop, I ended up having two accounts, let’s say the number A (old one) and B (new one), for the website
  2. My beloved subscription was associated to the account B (new one)..
  3. ..but, when I logged in, I could only access to the account A (old one)..
  4. I could not pay my subscription!

3) Since then, I was bombed of payment notification for 4 months via ordinary mail where I was asked to pay offline by sending my credit card details to The UK via ordinary mail..

Meanwhile, I was in contact with Harvard Business Review support in order solve the technical issue with the two accounts, and manage to pay online. Apparently we did it. HBR managed to make me access to the new account, the one associated to the subscription, and I managed to pay my 149 Euros. Yheee!!!

4) Once I paid, HBR cancelled the account associated to my payment and kept the other

Unfortunately, right after the payment the techical staff of Harvard Business Review decided to merge the two accounts (or delete one). The account A with my paid subscription disappeared and when I loggedin I could only see my old inactive account B.

5) I asked to get refunded and they sent me a check at home in Dollars.. I live in Spain and I paid in Euros!

The cancellation of the account represented the last straw. I didn’t want to have anything to do with Harvard Business Review ever, so I asked to cancel all my accounts and to be refunded. I waited to see my bank account refunded until yesterday I found in my mail box an evelope with a hand written address that contained a great old fashion check of 156,54.. Dollars! I paid online in Euros and I got my money back offline in Dollars!

Harvard Business Review letter for Gianluca Stamerra

6) There a last funny extra point that doesn’t have anything to do with Harvard Business Review, but somehow..

As you can immagine, because HBR paid me offline, I had to go to the bank in order to cash the check, but when I went (9 December 2016), they had just moved to another neighborhood..

I went to another branch and when I finally gave them the check.. the Bank told me they cannot accept Dollars because “they don’t have the bank correspondent on the other side”. They accept any currency likePound, Pesos and Bolivares but not Dollars. Oh, Come on!

So I asked a friend to cash it for me and.. the bank did’n accept it because they only cash cheques payable to their customers.

Do you want to know how it ended? Well, I went abroad for Christmas and I cashed there in another bank where I have an account. Can you believe it?

@HBR, here you have some suggestions to improve your online customer experience

  1. Simplify your shopping cart flow by
    1. Reducing the dozens of clicks
    2. Reducing the number of input forms
    3. Avoiding to redirect your prospect customers to N different domains with strange and unknown names like
  2. Use a Single Sign One system in order to
    1. Avoid customers to have multiple accounts
    2. Simplify the shopping cart (point 1 above)
  3. Be consistent within the shopping expereince. If a customer started the purchase experience online, do not send him an ordinary mail at home asking him to send his credit card details on a piece of paper
  4. I understand that it may be expensive and not scalable, but if a customer has an issue, call him (at least if he still has it after one week or two). Don’t overaload him/her of mails and emails for months
  5. Use a clear and simple communication. Avoid sentences like “pay later” (when? how?)
  6. Be consistent within all your channels.
    1. Sometimes it seems that some members of your team don’t know who does what in your Company. When reached you on Facebook, I was told to write to “” and when they answered to me, they said.. “First I would just like to make sure you have the most up to date contact information for our international subscription group..” and they gave me new contacts, and I had to write again, etc etc
    2. The printed magazine is great, make your App great as well. The readability/usability of your app is a mess.
  7. Do not use poor communication like the envelop you sent me, or like redirecting to a domain that is under construction (, image above) . It doesn’t reflect yur brand positioning

..and by the way HBR, I would be happy to be your customer and willing to subscribe to your magazine if you simplified my online experience 🙂


  1. Marc says:

    Hi Gianluca,
    It’s been 20 minutes now going right and left to pay the subscription. That’s 18 minutes more than what my patience can handle. We’re in 2018, and it looks like an early eCommerce website. Can’t believe I will need to send a check via ground mail… it seems that’s what they can handle.

  2. Pink has to be patient says:

    I wanted to share that I had the experience of subscribing to HBR digital version at the end of last year. Didn’t get an automatic email and didn’t note down the account number assuming that the email is auto-generated. So had to email customer service and yes getting back a few working days seems like forever… Now I want to unsubscribe and again waiting for them to get back in a few working days. Sigh. I am kind of scared to sign up for anything now if it takes this long. Why can’t I automatically unsubscribe rather than email or call an overseas number?

  3. Victoria says:

    2020… nothing has changed.

  4. Carl says:

    I too am having issues with HBR – basically their subscription partner (which is not HBR, to be fair to them). First, they arbitrarily cancelled my account without telling me – I only realised when I noticed I didn’t have a magazine through the door for a while. They say I cancelled (I didn’t) and I needed to resubscribe (which I did). I expect my card expired, but they didn’t email me to tell me that – they just cancelled the sub.

    Secondly, now I am resubscribed (in mid October) I received the Sep-Oct edition. I really don’t care that much about the past issue, I really wanted the Nov-Dec issue. On inquiring where it is (it’s now Nov 30), I am told “Your printed subscription is paid up to the end of September/October 2020 edition. Therefore the requested issue is not included in your subscription.” So, I paid in October (16th), the then current issue was Nov-Dec, I get a back issue, and am now told that the current issue is no in my subscription. WTF?

    They then added: “Your digital access remain active.”. ‘Remains’ active. So there’s a possibility it wouldn’t? And what’s the point of having a Print+Digital subscription if you don’t get half of what you have paid for?


  5. Jess D says:

    I have had similar issues but when cancel my HBR online subscription/membership. There is no easily identifiable way to digitally opt-out. If you can op in digitally I think a consumer should have a reasonable expectation that there will be a digital opt-out system and if not they should notify consumers prior to signing on. I joined in early 2020 on a monthly subscription and then cancelled in August 2020. Trying to cancel was a nightmare as there were no Australian contact numbers and no email addy’s to send cancellation request. I had to send a message online and weeks later someone got back to me and confirmed my account had been cancelled. I wasn’t charged for one month (which I took for cancellation confirmation) and then HBR reactivated my account without my permission and started charging me again. I didn’t notice until three months later as the invoice notifications were undistinguishable from all the HBR junk mail I kept getting. I got them to cancel my account again (January 2021) and wasn’t charge for one month but then…two days ago I got another credit card charge! When will it end! I only noticed the charge because I am watching any correspondence from HBR carefully. I’ve notified them yet again but I think this is a strategic and systematic occurrence. Way too many people would be caught out by this or delay the process of unsubscribing based entirely on the sheer level of time you have to spend on this. Its a very poor and unethical business practice. I hope HBR sorts this out.

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