How Duolingo drives subscription conversion

A picture of Duolingo’s Owl

With up to one third of new monthly subscribers cancelling within 1–3 days of their first purchase, converting users on your trial or even getting them to renew feels like a mammoth task.

Let’s take a look at how Duolingo drives value for its new subscribers and generates over $250 million in annual revenue.

I jumped back into Duolingo this week after hearing about their 4.5x user growth over 4 years — super impressive, given they’re a mature product.

Whilst I’d given up on learning French with Duo back in 2015 (and since opted for 1–1 French lessons instead, naturellement), I re-downloaded to see what’s new.

I was originally interested in where and how they drive to subscription (a topic for another post) but instead, what caught my eye is how much they hammer home the value of the subscription post-purchase.

I bought my Duo subscription from the small card in the shop tab. There was a surprising number of screens before I started my 2-week trial, with some nice touches:

  • A personalised statistic showcasing value “super learners are 4.2X more likely to finish the French course”
  • A table comparing free and paid features
  • Confirmation they’ll remind me before my trial is up
  • Calmed my fears and anxieties with ‘cancel anytime — no penalties or fees’ (I certainly hope not Duo)
  • Multiple plans for different cohorts e.g. family plan & individual
A flow of Duolingo’s pre-purchase screens
Duo’s pre-purchase UX — feels like I’m in space with this branding.

Once I’d finished the OS payment with Face ID, what happened next really got me.

Duo took on a Pokemon-esque evolution and shot off into hyperspace on my screen

A GIF screen recording of the Duo owl taking his transformation and shooting off into space
Screen recording on iOS (Feb 2023)…. Pika-CHU

I love seeing the premium branding of SUPER transform Duo on my screen: he upgraded like a Pikachu levelling up, then shot off through space like:

A Nyan Cat GIF showing a cat flying through space with a rainbow trail

I wasn’t expecting this over-the-top animation. But loved it.

While it was a bit silly, it was memorable, made me laugh and I genuinely smiled when I watched it. Like I was privvy to a special Duo show.

The levelling-up animation was then followed by a very extensive explanation of what you get with SUPER Duo. I had to swipe through a 5-step carousel of key benefits of my SUPER subscription:

A flow showing Duolingo’s screens after you’ve started your trial. Five screens that show benefits of SUPER Duolingo
Post-purchase flow. Getting tired now…

Whilst it hammered home the five key parts on my sub, by the end I thought:

Let me get back into the app already…

The last part of the carousel was interactive, prompting me to turn on my custom app icon — something that makes your push notifications really pop as we’ll see in a sec.

Turns out, not much.

After the intense purchase UX, I was expecting a similar experience back in the main app. But it was surprisingly subtle.

In the top navigation on the right, I have a running Duo icon in the SUPER colour gradient. Tapping on the icon launches a bottom sheet covering my subscription features and an upsell onto the family plan (I assume family plan users have higher lifetime value due to the higher price point and potentially more accountability to learn with peers, hence why they’re pushing it).

GIF screen recording of the post-purchase experience in the main app. Tap on a SUPER icon and scroll through a bottom sheet of the subscription benefits
In-app experience on the main tab

I do like having the ability to turn my paid features on and off in one place — is like a one-stop-shop for my subscription, reminding me of the value.

Yet it does feel light as experience, especially after the over-the-top purchase flow. Scanning quickly through my other tabs on the bottom nav, they are near identical to before my trial.

I felt deflated. It was an anti-climax. Like when the final season of your favourite show lets you down ** cough cough Game of Thrones cough cough**.

It was a short sharp honeymoon phase with Duo I’m afraid.

Because I turned on my custom app icon, with each push I was reminded of my SUPER subscription by my cool new logo. Its a small change, but exposing users to small reminders of why they’re special helps communicate subscription value.

Two push notifications side-by-side: one freemium and one premium. Highlighting the difference the premium app icon makes
SUPER Duo is definitely more eye-catching on push (with a more intense stare..)

App icons are valuable real estate. I’ve seen changing just the colour of an app store icon result in 40%+ increase in app store conversion rate. Icons are not to be sniffed at.

Aside from the one push I received around my trial ending, I did feel like my pushes were the same as I would have received on the freemium experience.

Screenshot of notification centre showing all Duolingo push notifications
A mix of guilt tripping, respecting my time, Duo’s alter ego and a happy hour. What a rollercoaster.

This was a bit of a missed opportunity in my view. I could tell that these weren’t aimed at me as a subscriber. There’s a chance here to cut through Duo’s normal pushes like Tinder does to pre-churn users.

I did however receive a bespoke email aimed at SUPER subscribers with a snazzy new template.

Welcome to Super Duolingo!

A screenshot of my SUPER email confirmation, highlighting the core features of my subscription: no ads, unlimited hearts and monthly streak repairs.
Still feels like I’m in space with this branding.

What’s interesting here is the free monthly streak repair. That is something I’d be interested in (loosing a streak is one of the worst feelings in the world —leading to a bad mix of guilt and demoralisation according to UX writer Ben Davies-Romano).

Duo improved the % of DAUs with a streak of 7 days or longer by 3X in recent years, now sitting at almost 50% of DAU. I imagine the streak freeze features contributes to this in part.

Why didn’t streak freeze get pulled up in the 10+ SUPER screens I swiped through in my purchase journey? Not sure, but I would have liked to see it there over the weaker screens like ‘prove your proficiency’.

Here’s the key points thats stood out for me in Duolingo’s subscription flow

What went well

  1. Unique branding of SUPER (that literally came to life)
  2. Allowed me to use parts of my premium subscription ASAP (like changing my app icon)
  3. I’m clear by the end of the purchase flow just how much I’m getting in my subscription
  4. All my subscription features housed in one place
  5. Used both in-app and CRM to communicate subtle reminders of SUPER Duo

Areas for further testing

  1. Avoid overwhelming new subscribers: could the purchase UX feel lighter weight in any way?
  2. More areas of the app to highlight SUPER: small UI highlights here and there. Could the green of the main nav be their space purple?
  3. A SUPER CRM series: a push series to cut through and make me feel special. What am I getting compared to freemium users?

In the end though, after flying through space with Duo, I cancelled by subscription shortly after. I’m someone who needs accountability to learn outside of work (not just from an Owl).

I’m sorry Duo, till the next time…

I would love to know others’ experience: what has driven subscription conversion for you? What other apps do purchase UX well?

Read the full article here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Your unofficial guide to mentorship

Your unofficial guide to mentorship

One reason I’ve remained committed to my craft as a designer is through the

deduxer studio | creative unicorns on Land-book

deduxer studio | creative unicorns on Land-book


You May Also Like