Zombie Subscriptions: How to Detect & Prevent Them

Zombie Subscriptions

Subscription software has completely changed the way we do business. Subscription services usually cost less than desktop software, and require less resources to maintain. But did you know that the average business wastes about a third of its SaaS spend? One common culprit is zombie subscriptions.

What Are Zombie Subscriptions?

Zombie subscriptions” is a term spend management pros use to describe subscriptions that continually renew without the subscribers’ knowledge. Here are some examples of how it can happen:

  • Project subscriptions: Your employee needs a particular subscription to work on a project, but they forget to cancel it when the project is complete.
  • Unused subscriptions: Your team thinks a software subscription would be an excellent addition to their business function, but then they forget about it and never use it.
  • Duplicate subscriptions: One person on the team purchases a subscription for themself. Then another team member purchases the same subscription, not knowing the company already has a software license.
  • Former employee subscriptions: An employee purchases a subscription and then leaves the company, but their software license isn’t cancelled.

Each of these situations results in recurring charges that can cost thousands of dollars—without benefiting your business at all. In other words, it’s totally wasted spending. A 2020 study showed that the average company wastes $135,000 per year on zombie subscriptions!

How to Avoid Zombie Subscriptions

Chances are that your company is paying for zombie subscriptions. So how can you deal with and prevent them? For the best results, you’ll need to audit your subscriptions at least annually, or ideally quarterly. Follow the steps outlined below to eliminate wasteful subscriptions.

1. Identify & Evaluate Organizational Subscriptions

Gather your spend data for the last year to see exactly where your money has been going. Look for payments that repeat every month or appear more than once per month. Then, survey your team to see which subscriptions are actually being used. Decide which are critical to keep your business running and which you could do without.

2. Eliminate Any Subscriptions No Longer in Use

Once you’ve identified your zombie subscriptions, you can start eliminating them. To maintain business continuity, check the feedback you received from your employees to make sure that stopping these subscriptions won’t disrupt their projects. Then cancel away!

3. Cross-Check, Compare & Consolidate Similar Subscriptions

Group your subscriptions by function to see if you’re paying for multiple tools that have the same use, like Zoom and Google Workspace (which includes Google Meet). Compare your subscriptions’ capabilities and features to see where they overlap. For example, you might be able to cancel your payroll software if your HR software has payroll capabilities.

Compare subscriptions for individual services from the same providers, such as Apple or Adobe. It might be more cost-effective to consolidate these into a single subscription. You’ll want to check for subscriptions that aren’t being fully utilized. For example, you may be paying for a software package for multiple employees, but actually only need one license and can downgrade your package.

Finally, consider how each software subscription’s cost has changed over time. Is the price constantly increasing? Are you still using it regularly? Does it offer a free version that you could use instead? Maybe you can consider an alternative.

How to Prevent Zombie Subscriptions

The subscription audit process includes lots of moving parts that can be difficult to manage on your own. An automated solution can help you identify zombie subscriptions and eliminate wasteful SaaS spending.

With automated subscription management, you get total visibility into all of your team SaaS licenses, allowing you to manage all your subscriptions from a single dashboard and implement spend controls. Plus, automated workflows can save your finance team countless hours managing and collecting receipts and syncing data to your accounting system.

Automate Your Subscription Management

Automation can significantly streamline many business processes. Subscription management is just another example of how it can help you reduce costs, as well as the need to manually track your subscriptions. Identifying, removing, and preventing zombie subscriptions through automation will save you time and money—and guarantee that you won’t have to worry about software audits again.


What are zombie subscriptions?

Zombie subscriptions are subscriptions that renew without active usage or the subscriber’s knowledge, resulting in wasted spending for businesses.

How can businesses avoid zombie subscriptions?

To avoid them, businesses should regularly audit subscriptions, cancel unused ones, consolidate overlapping subscriptions, and consider implementing automated subscription management tools.

How often should businesses audit their subscriptions?

It is recommended to audit subscriptions at least annually, with quarterly audits providing more frequent monitoring.

What benefits can businesses gain from automated subscription management?

Automated tools provide visibility, centralized management, spend controls, and time savings for finance teams, helping to reduce wasteful spending and improve financial management.

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