In an unexpected move, smart home hub company Wink announced last week that it is switching to a subscription model, giving customers just one week to subscribe or lose access to their Wink devices. According to a May 6 blog post, Wink said that, since the company started in 2014, it has been funded through one-time revenue from the sale of Wink devices. However, that revenue is no longer enough to sustain operations, including cloud services, development and customer support or to plan for future growth. As a result, effective May 20, the company is moving to a $4.99 per month subscription. The original date for the switchover was May 13, but after consumers complained, Wink extended the deadline a week.
Previously, the Wink service was free with the purchase of Wink smart home devices. As of May 20, customers who own Wink devices but don’t subscribe will no longer be able to access their Wink smart home devices from the Wink app, with voice control or through the API. Also, automations will be disabled as of May 20. If customers change their minds in the future, they can reactivate their Wink devices by subscribing.
“Wink has taken many steps in an effort to keep your Hub’s blue light on, however, long term costs and recent economic events have caused additional strain on our business. Unlike companies that sell user data to offset costs associated with offering free services, we do not. Data privacy is one of Wink’s core values, and we believe that user data should never be sold for marketing or any purpose,” said Wink. “Your support will enable us to continue providing you with the functionality that you’ve come to rely on, and focus on accelerating new integrations and app features.”
In a May 6 tweet, Wink (@TheWinkApp) shared the news with its 16.6K followers. The tweet received 1.4K comments. Customers are outraged that they paid for devices they will no longer be able to use unless they subscribe. They were also upset about the short notice they were given to subscribe. One customer called it extortion, one said their accounts were being ransomed, and another promised a class action lawsuit.
Wink is owned by Will.i.am’s technology company i.am+. According to The Verge, last fall the company was running out of money, failing to pay workers for seven weeks and temporarily closing their Schenectady, New York office.
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It is easy to see why Wink device owners are incensed that the company who promised “no monthly fees or subscriptions” has done an about face. We understand the need to transition to a subscription model for long-term sustainability, but there are so many things Wink could have done differently. First, their timing is terrible. With the COVID-19 pandemic, people are working from home, studying from home, and money is tight everywhere. People need to feel secure in their homes, and they don’t need added expenses. Second, Wink should have given customers more notice of the switch. While they extended it from one week to two, that isn’t enough time for consumers who wanted to change to other products or services to do so.
Third, it seems there might have been some middle ground where Wink instituted subscriptions for new customers, but grandfathered in existing ones. Another option would have been to give current customers a free subscription for a year before imposing the transition, or granting a grace period of six months where Wink users could still access their information. The subscription model may have been a business necessity, but the execution of the change was clumsy at best, and it will likely have a lasting impact.