It’s been two weeks since the Strava Fiasco™ began. Of course, this is actually a fiasco that’s been quietly brewing in the UK since late November. Now, if you missed Episode 1 of this storm, check out that post here. In short here, here’s a quick recap in one paragraph:
Strava decided to increase pricing at varying rates, up to doubling the price for some monthly users. This would apply to their most populous regions/countries, but ultimately to all users. Except, they didn’t tell anyone. Instead, they sent out a boilerplate renewal notice that your subscription was renewing at a higher rate. Meanwhile, when people checked what their renewal price was on the site, it’d show an incorrect lower price. This led me to ask Strava’s PR department what was going on, which triggered a Strava press release, which in turn led to me asking (again) what the actual listed price of Strava was (since it wasn’t listed anywhere). They refused to state it or answer. All of which basically blew up the internets, in both athletic and mainstream media. Got it? Good.
Fast forward to this week and Strava has finally made some changes. First, they updated a slate of pages across their site, making it easier to figure out what your new price will be. Second, they’ve posted an apology of sorts, albeit posted to a location you’ll likely never see. And third, as part of their new pricing page, they’ve seemingly violated a slate of EU laws around pricing and consumer rights.
In this post, I’m gonna dig through it all, including checking Strava pricing in an absurd number of countries. So, let’s get started.
*Title technicality: Not every country, just a silly number of countries to spend time figuring out, as you’ll see.
The Strava Club Post:
A few DCR readers started chatting about “a new Strava message” on late Tuesday afternoon. This was slightly confusing to me. Mainly because I didn’t seem to get “the message”. Neither did my wife for her account. However, it’d turn out that’s because it wasn’t an actual e-mail message. Rather, it was a message posted within the Strava app, under “The Strava Club”. This self-named club is just like any other Strava club (such as for cycling teams, running groups, etc…), except, it’s in all capitals – The Strava Club. Not just any Strava club, but *THE* one and only The Strava Club. Basically fight club without most of the blood. The club officially shows 4,245,630 athletes as being part of it, though, that would mean that only about 4% of total Strava users are members. Apparently most people do abide by “The first rule of [The] Strava Club is: you DO NOT talk about [The] Strava Club.” mantra here.
Anyways, in theory, Strava would bubble this into your Strava feed, just like how workouts from your friends show in your feed – even if you weren’t a member of The Strava Club.
In practice, of course, that didn’t happen. At least not for me or others at the unrelated cycling media event I’ve been at the past few days full of cycling journalists. Instead, I had to go fishing for it, but eventually, I found it:
Here’s the full text of the message, for easy reading:
Title: Clarifying Subscription Pricing Confusion
We updated our pricing. Our messaging was very confusing. So we are providing more clarity.
In an effort to roll out pricing updates for our subscription, we made a mistake by not providing enough information directly to our community. We sincerely apologize for the confusion and concern this has caused many of our valued subscribers.
Our intention was not to hide these pricing changes, we just moved too fast. We also missed the opportunity to inform long-standing monthly subscribers that, by shifting from paying monthly to annual, they can avoid a significant price increase altogether.
Strava is fully committed to our community. This commitment means allowing our subscribers to receive an automated email about changing subscription costs, or to read or hear about price change confusion elsewhere is unacceptable. We hear and understand your frustration, and we aim here to make subscription rates clear to our community.
What you need to know:
We are moving to consistent pricing by country – this means that all subscribers in a country will pay the same monthly or annual price.
You can see your price for annual or monthly subscription here: www.strava.com/pricing
At Strava, we’re constantly working to innovate and improve the experience for all active people. Over the past 13 years we have added significant value to the Strava subscription, including features and experiences for route discovery and planning, tracking progress over time, improved privacy controls, more activity types and even prehab and mobility. We will remain committed to future investments to provide even more value to subscribers.
Since launching Strava in 2009, this is our first time increasing prices for all-access subscribers. As Strava has grown to include over 100 million people with over 8 billion uploads, the cost of supporting our active community at scale has also grown. In addition to continuously releasing and improving features our community relies on, going forward, we will periodically assess our prices. As a result, they could change in the future to better reflect the work it takes to build the best experience.
We sincerely hope that every member of our community can feel the value our team has added to Strava over the years to make your experience better (https://www.strava.com/whats-new). We are incredibly grateful for the support of our subscribers, and we thank you for being part of the Strava community.
In terms of messages, it’s actually not too bad. It takes responsibility for their screw-up, it outlines how they screwed up, and it makes clear they were really annoyed that I called out their screw-up. Specifically, this part:
“…to read or hear about price change confusion elsewhere is unacceptable.”
Kidding aside (somewhat…), it’s not a bad message. Really, it’s not.
It links to the pricing with an easy-to-understand/remember URL (more on that in a second), and makes it easy to find out what your new renewal price is. It also outlines that you can save a bunch of money by going from monthly to annual, and that they really really really want you to do that, so they’ve made the monthly pricing nearly double in most cases what it was before:
“We also missed the opportunity to inform long-standing monthly subscribers that, by shifting from paying monthly to annual, they can avoid a significant price increase altogether.”
They also talk about the features they’ve added, though, this part is a bit more fuzzy. I would have leaned harder on new things here:
“Over the past 13 years we have added significant value to the Strava subscription, including features and experiences for route discovery and planning, tracking progress over time, improved privacy controls, more activity types and even prehab and mobility.”
After all, to a certain degree, the entire point of a subscription renewal service is ‘evergreen’ new features. Meaning, you’re paying monthly to get either new things monthly, or continued access to a consumable. Whereas in the past when you bought software once, it didn’t tend to see these level of upgrades. Still, they at least own up to the fact that things just simply got more expensive:
“As Strava has grown to include over 100 million people with over 8 billion uploads, the cost of supporting our active community at scale has also grown. In addition to continuously releasing and improving features our community relies on, going forward, we will periodically assess our prices. As a result, they could change in the future to better reflect the work it takes to build the best experience.”
So, all in all, a good message.
Except, one problem: They didn’t send it out.
Rather, they just posted it to a group (a Strava club) that most of their members will never see.
For context, yesterday they sent out an e-mail that they acquired a company called FATMAP. Frankly, I’d never heard of FATMAP before. Neither had a few cycling journalists I pinged. But that’s fine, there’s plenty of acquisitions that turn out to be super cool. And indeed, looking at what they acquired, it looks cool. I trust they’ll do something cool with it.
Still, the point is they sent out an e-mail for acquiring a no-name company this week. Yet they can’t copy/paste the price change text via e-mail above to all subscribers?
Of course, being the friendly guy I am, I asked Strava’s PR department if perhaps an upcoming price change e-mail was in the works. And if so, roughly when it might be released? Basically, I gave them every opportunity to show that things were in the works – to show that, per their own posted message “their intention was not to hide these pricing changes”. Here’s my e-mail, sent Tuesday mid-afternoon California time.
“Can you clarify or confirm whether or not Strava will also be e-mailing subscribers about the price change? And if so, is there a rough timeframe for when that e-mail will go out? This is for a piece for tomorrow morning my time.”
Nothing. It’s been ~40 hours now.
Every other company on this planet has managed to send an e-mail to their users for price changes. Yet Strava still refuses to meaningfully communicate this to members. And frankly, if I were a Strava investor sitting in Silicon Valley, I’d be equally upset at the way this is being handled. All of it.
The Great Pricing Decoder:
One of my chief complaints previously was that Strava effectively hid their pricing. There was no way to easily see the price for your country before signing up, either monthly or renewal. The only way to see this price was to create an account, then try to upgrade to a paid account, which even then still hid the actual one-time billed annual price (and tried to make it look like the monthly price). Meanwhile, for existing users, the renewal rate was incorrect on the renewal page, leading people to believe their price wasn’t actually changing (when in reality it still would).
Strava has, to their credit, taken some steps to address that. They’ve created a page (strava.com/pricing) that you can access which will show you both the monthly and annual price options for your country. You can see an example of this below:
Additionally, they have corrected your account renewal page, to show your upcoming renewal price. Here’s mine (in USD, because my account subscription was initially instantiated in the US):
And here’s my wife’s (I know, still on the stupid monthly plan, my fault, we’re gonna cancel it before Feb 9th anyways, she doesn’t get any value out of any of the paid features). Her paid subscription was initially substantiated in the Netherlands. However, interestingly, her account has a note about ‘pricing different than expected?’ (whereas mine does not):
Still, at least they’ve gotten this updated correctly to show the right prices now. That’s good.
Of course, they don’t show what those prices are in other countries in a handy table back on that pricing page. And to be fair, most other companies don’t either. Then again, most other companies don’t charge different rates within the EU either (certainly, a few do, but most don’t). Whereas Strava charges a different price for people in the Netherlands, another for France, and yet another for Germany.
Now, there’s some debate in the comments section on whether or not this is legal. And at first this seemed legal, as it falls under EU companies’ rights to charge different rates based on taxes or other components within a country. However, while looking into this, I found this handy EU Rights site (run by the EU to clarify things for EU residents), that very clearly indicates, even with an exact replica example – that what Strava is doing seems to violate EU law. Here’s the exact section that covers this scenario:
(For Strava’s lawyers, you can look at the full legal directive page here, which also references the consumer page linked above, Regulation (EC) No 864/2007, Article 6A, as discussed in Section 1.2 for non-EU traders targeting EU consumers.)
Now you may be wondering, what about Netflix? After all, they do have different pricing per EU country. But in Netflix’s case, they have different video catalogs per country. In other words, the quantity of the service varies. Whereas in Strava’s case, it’s all the same (the EU FAQ site even explains this SKU concept too, it’s amazing!). Even if Strava could find a way to justify (legally) their different pricing, they fail the law at being able to direct to a different country version.
So, that got me thinking – as a resident of the EU, what are the prices across the board? Well, back I went to the VPN to figure it out. You see, Strava shows pricing based on what it thinks is your geographic location. As I learned in the first episode of this fiasco, using a VPN is all I needed to find the prices for different countries. Your pricing is based on the sign-up country when you first joined Strava. In my case, I initially signed up in the US, and thus, continue to pay the US despite not living in the US for nearly 11 years.
In any case, off I went with my VPN again:
And, if we jump-cut forward, here’s the giant table of all the pricing for Europe (the EU designation in my chart is specifically aligned to EU member-state countries, not EEA or the umpteen other variations). Also, for fun, I put a column using today’s exchange rate to USD, showing how these all differ in relative pricing based on USD. I had to use something as the baseline, and given Strava is based in the US and most of their employees/costs are in the US, I went with that. I then sorted based on annual cost using USD (color coding comparison based on full global country set, red is most expensive):
(Data as of January 26th, 2023 – both currency exchange rates and Strava pricing data)
Then I got curious and did the same for a crapton of other countries (I just used the ~Top 75 country viewers of the site here, albeit three countries didn’t have VPN access points). Congrats Brazil!
Condolences to Germany.
So a couple of interesting things I discovered as part of this:
A) For all EU countries, and a few other European countries, Strava charges in local currency and specifies as such
B) However, for vast swaths of the world, Strava doesn’t have local pricing. In that case, it’s simply assigned a price of $7.99/$54.99 – charged in USD.
C) There are some non-European countries where Strava has specific local pricing, such as Indonesia and Brazil. These are among the cheapest Strava countries, yet there isn’t country-specific pricing for other expected ones like India (they default to USD pricing). Inversely, also-custom priced Australia and Canada are among the most expensive.
D) In the EU especially, outside of a handful of countries, Strava simply hasn’t bothered to account for cost of living or consumer prices. If we use the EU’s cost of consumer goods chart, Ireland should actually be priced more expensive than the Netherlands, yet it’s quite the opposite. You can also use the overall price index if you want instead, and you’ll see the same pattern.
E) While the majority of Azerbaijan lies in Asia, a chunk of it lies in Europe. Inversely, Turkey is split between the two continents. I gave Azerbaijan to Asia, and Turkey to Europe.
G) There are many other quirks you can see in the table above, related to Monthly/Annual differences.
H) It’s plausible Strava has a few other random custom-priced countries out there that I didn’t find, given I kept my list to the Top 75 countries (for visitors to the site here). I suspect Strava’s country ordering and mine are relatively close. For perspective, once I reached the 75th country, the number of visitors was near 1/1000th that of the US visitor count (not kidding, 1/983rd to be exact). Meaning, I doubt Strava is doing custom pricing for #76 on my list: Trinidad & Tobago.
Now, some have suggested why not just create a new Strava account in the cheapest country? And sure, you could do that. But for me – my Strava account is sorta like a photo album of my runs/rides/hikes/etc over the last dozen years. Abandoning that to save a few bucks just isn’t worth it to me. Whereas, if you were starting a fresh account? Well…the world’s your oyster. Literally.
And remember, per Strava’s own support team, your membership rate is based on whatever country you initially sign-up from (and you can seemingly use a credit card from any country, as is my and my wife’s case).
— UK hot food chat (@UKhotfoodchat) January 25, 2023
There does not appear to be any method to change billing country at this time, even by request (again, according to Strava support). Which, is also against EU law.
Here’s the funny thing – I’m sure at this point someone’s gonna think I’m somehow against Strava. I’m not. In fact, I use Strava daily, multiple times a day, and find great value in it. Especially the paid features around mapping and routing. I used it numerous times this week alone while riding in Portugal, where I did some extra rides/runs outside the group I was with and was able to quickly get and tweak routes seamlessly from another person with Strava – all in mere seconds. I use the heatmap-focused features in the routing constantly, as arguably no platform has as much fitness heatmap data as Strava does.
Further, while some people are justifiably upset about the price increase from a monetary standpoint, I’m personally not complaining about that. I get that prices increase in today’s economy. And the price increase for me is $25/year. For what I use it for personally, I’ll happily pay that. I get more than enough value out of that $25 each year, than I do out of countless other stupid things I pay for related to sports/fitness.
I’ve also covered all the good stuff Strava has done over the past long-while. Dozens of posts/stories and YouTube videos over the last couple of years alone, netting millions and millions of views. And I’ll continue to do so – just like any other company I cover. The fact that Strava is making their own life more difficult here doesn’t really change the fact that if they do cool newsworthy stuff I’ll cover it.
But at the same time, like it or not, Strava is the biggest sports tech company out there. With a claimed userbase of more than 100 million users, they no longer get the free pass that a smaller company might get for making mistakes. And they shouldn’t. They’ve had weeks now to properly notify their users. They had every opportunity to simply reply back and say “Hey, e-mail’s coming up, just hang tight”. And they’ve had every resource in the world to understand how EU pricing laws work.
While Strava has made improvements around the site pricing page (good!), and the renewal page (great!), the simple reality is they’re still trying to hide this from their subscribers. At present, they’re the only company I know of in the tech space that refuses to e-mail their customers about upcoming pricing changes. And that needs to change.
With that, thanks for reading!