How to shut down a product
Recently I shut down one of my projects ListList, so I decided to write a guide on how to properly do that since there is not so many info about that topic on the Internet.
This guide is about closing a web product, but with some minor changes, you could apply it to other types of products.
I won’t discuss whether it’s the right decision to close a product and what can you do to avoid that. I also won’t discuss legal, financial, technical, and other issues that you might be required to deal with (especially if you’re closing a big product).
My focus in this guide will be on establishing good communication with your customers to make the shutdown less painful for them. They rely on your product and will be upset about its closure. Your goal is to make that as less uncomfortable as possible.
You made the tough decision to close your product. Now you have to inform your customers about that.
Depending on the type of your product and audience you should give from a few weeks up to a few years prior notice. A general rule is that you don’t want to rush your customers with the migration. For example, if your customers are small businesses that rely on your API and shutting down your service means rewriting code for them, then probably you should give at least six months notice, so they could choose a new provider and rewrite their code without rush.
The announcement should be published on your website (visible for all visitors) and also sent via your usual communication channels (e.g., email newsletter, social media, etc.).
In the goodbye letter thank your customers for being amazing and supporting you and your product all these years. Apologize for the inconvenience the shutdown causes.
Your customers would have questions, so answer them right away in the letter:
- When will the product be shut down??
- Why are you closing it?
- Which other products they could use instead?
- What happens with their data after the shutdown?
- How can they contact you with further questions?
Let’s discuss some of these questions in details.
2. Why are you closing it?
Be honest. If there is no money left to continue the product support tell users about that. If you’re burned out or tired working on this project, tell users about that. If this project got no traction and you see no point maintaining it anymore tell users about that. It’s hard, but they’ll appreciate your honesty.
Regardless of the reasons, it’s your decision. Don’t make users feel responsible or even faulty for the closure.
Tell users what you or your company are planning to do next (even if it’s just getting some rest). This makes the announcement more personal.
Since you already got some trust from your customers don’t just end this relationship. Let them know about your or your company’s blog, Twitter or email newsletter, and suggest them to subscribe to it if they want to receive updates about your other projects (even if you don’t have any yet).
3. Which other products they could use instead?
Research which other similar services exist where your customers could migrate to. Write a small description for each of them. If there are articles describing or comparing these services add links to them.
If these services aren’t free, ask their owners if they can make a discount for your customers.
If the services allow data import it’d help your customers to be able to export their data in a suitable for import format. Or even make the data migration automatic if the services have an API for that and you’ve got time to implement it. A rule of thumb is that for a customer the migration should be as quick and straightforward as possible.
Also, consider open-sourcing your product, so that some customers might run it locally. In such case add a way to migrate their data from your instance to theirs.
4. What happens with their data after the shutdown?
If you store user data tell customers what happens with the data after the shutdown? Will you delete them? If so, make it very clear that the data could be exported only for some limited period and then they’ll be removed.
If you don’t plan to delete the data, then tell why and how you’d use them? In the latter case, let users know that they could ask you to remove their data. Anyway, you must allow doing that according to GDPR.
Think about how the customers might want to use their data later. For example, some might want to handle their data programmatically, while others might want just to be able to read them. In this case, it makes sense to offer data export in a machine-readable format (e.g., JSON, CSV) and a human-readable form (e.g., HTML, plain-text).
After the announcement
You announced the forthcoming closure. No matter how well you described the process, the customers will contact with questions. Try to answer their questions promptly to avoid upsetting them even more.
Close the registration
Consider closing the registration for new users. If, for some reason you don’t want to do that at least make it very clear for new users that you’ll shut the service down soon. So they don’t start using the service to figuring out later that it’s about to close.
Give a discount
If you charge customers for your service, consider giving a discount or even make it free. They will appreciate that.
Update help section
If you’ve got a help section on your website update it with the information about the shutdown: how and where to migrate, what happens with the user data, and other questions I discussed above.
Since writing about all that stuff in the announcement probably would make it too long, you could add to the announcement links to these help articles.
Some of your customers miss the announcement or forget about it. It’s good to remind them about the closure 1-2 weeks prior.
After the shutdown
The day has come. You shut down the product and made the final announcement about the closure.
If you can, keep your website online even after the shutdown. There will be customers who missed the shutdown announcement or new users who just stumbled upon your product. Don’t let them wonder why they see a blank page and what happened to your product.
You probably don’t want to keep all your communication channels active. Make it clear which of them are you closing (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc.). But keep at least one channel active, so customers that still have questions or missed the shutdown may contact you.
Did you already close any products? Let me know about your experience!