A proposed class action alleges BarkBox has run afoul of a California law by failing to provide clear disclosures and obtain affirmative consent before enrolling pet owners into automatically renewing subscription plans.
The 15-page suit claims that the company, who sells dog treats, chews and toys through one-, six- or 12-month subscription plans, essentially “trick[s]” consumers into signing up for recurring plans for which they’re wrongfully charged.
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According to the case, BarkBox has violated California’s Automatic Renewal Law (ARL), which requires a company who signs consumers up for automatically renewing subscriptions to provide “clear and conspicuous” disclosures about the plan and obtain “affirmative consent” before enrolling them.
If a company violates California’s Automatic Renewal Law, all recurring shipments sent to consumers are considered “unconditional gifts” that the individuals have no obligation to return or cancel, even after they discover that they’ve been unwittingly enrolled in an autorenewal plan, the lawsuit says.
The case states that by law, the terms of an automatic renewal offer, as they’re presented to a consumer, must disclose:
That the subscription or purchasing agreement will continue until the consumer cancels;
The description of the cancellation policy as it applies to the automatic renewal offer;
That recurring charges will be charged to the consumer’s payment card as part of the automatic renewal plan, and that the amount of the charge may change, as well as the amount the charge will change;
The length of the automatic renewal term or that the service is continuous, unless the consumer decides the length of the term; and
The minimum purchase obligation, if any.
As the suit tells it, BarkBox plans appear online to be a commitment to receive shipments from the company for a specified period of one, six or 12 months. The only mention of automatic renewal is “in the tiniest font on the page,” in “pale grey text that blends into the white background,” the complaint relays. The “Continue” button on the order page also does not disclose to consumers that they are agreeing to anything by clicking, the filing says.
“This is the opposite of the clear and conspicuous disclosure required by the ARL. The link is hidden in tiny print, the word ‘Terms’ does not indicate anything about automatic renewal, and the additional terms are not even on the same page as the BUY NOW button (much less in visual proximity). Further, the BUY NOW button does not flag for consumers that they are agreeing to anything, much less agreeing to automatic renewal.”
The case argues that BarkBox “should reasonably know that its automatic renewal process misleads reasonable consumers,” some of whom, the suit says, have complained to the Better Business Bureau about being “surprised by the automatic renewal.” Although the company responds to these complaints and apologizes to consumers, it “does not try to make the automatic renewal clear—it does the opposite,” the lawsuit says.
The case looks to cover all persons who bought a BarkBox subscription in California during the applicable statute of limitations period.
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