Free trial periods have become an ‘industry standard’ in both software products marketing and website membership marketing. With new versions of Windows being offered free of charge and traditional businesses quickly transforming towards the ‘product as a service’ strategy, the average consumer starts to expect this option as a prerequisite rather than a sign of good will on part of the company. As consumers become more and more acquainted to the concept of ‘try before you buy’, many specialists start to question the actual capability of this practice to boost sales and ensure customer loyalty. Below are some pros and cons of free trial periods as a marketing tool.
- Many expensive products raise substantiated concerns over the benefits they can offer to small business owners and professionals. With subscription plans to Adobe or Microsoft Office products reaching $80-100 per year, some consumers may be reluctant to use them instead of simpler freeware options. Being able to experience the advantages of premium solutions first-hand can alleviate these deal-breaking thoughts. Additionally, this step demonstrates that the new offerings are free of software ‘bugs’ that have become a common problem form many software manufacturers.
- Free trial periods can substantially reduce the return rates in some industries. The consumers knowing exactly what they will get for their money make more informed purchase decisions. This may be especially important for the consumers searching for an ultimate solution for migrating all their studio projects in design, audio engineering or video editing. Professionals in these spheres frequently use software products many time a day, which makes design ergonomics and overall convenience critical for ensuring positive customer experiences.
- Consumers who invested their time in actually using your product clearly understand its benefits and may return to you later even if they make their final decision later after appraising several competing products. Being focused on the consumer experience rather than instant sales also allows you to build customer relationships rather than one-time deals. This is also effective for producing positive word-of-mouth in professional communities and raising the interest of other practitioners to your products and services.
- Trial periods rarely extend beyond one month, which makes it difficult to fully appraise the product, especially in the case of complex software solutions having a steep learning curve. Many trial plans lack such ‘premium’ options as customer support or free tutorials. This reduces the capability of prospective leads to fully experience the promoted product or service and form their opinion regarding its advantages and disadvantages. For example, a consumer who faced an obstacle and has to spend a week browsing through free educational videos on YouTube loses a week of his or her customer experience.
- The provision of free trial periods may increase the buying power since consumers may compare several competing offerings and influence their pricing. The capability to easily switch to an alternative product increases the degree of rivalry in the sectors relying on free trials as a common marketing practice. This may be especially evident in audio- and video-editing spheres where the same basic functionality and utilised file formats are shared by the majority of paid and free offerings. Substantiating the need to use your specific solution instead of its open-source counterpart may be really tricky at times.
- Trial users are not obliged to purchase your products after this period expires. On the one hand, you can use their contacts provided during the registration process to send some follow-up marketing messages or ask for their feedback to further develop these leads. On the other hand, many users rely on free trial offerings as a ‘temporary crutch’ to resolve some pressing issues and never use it again. Some prospects may even complete several registrations to use your product for more than one trial period free of charge. In many cases, it may be difficult to prevent these scenarios as excessive registration complexity may scare away other potential buyers.
While the recommendations above apply to most products to a greater or lesser degree, there is no common ‘best practice’ in this sphere, which is demonstrated by the Apple Music free trial failure. Starting with your product may be the optimal strategy since the expected learning curve and purchase options (one-time purchase or subscription) directly influence the optimal trial length and the functions you may want to include or limit in the trial version. One of the most effective practices of ‘consumer lock-in’ in this sphere is the use of proprietary formats or the combination of unlimited editing options with limited exporting options. This way, your consumers may experience the full range of creative instruments while being unable to render the results into a finished commercial product before purchasing the ‘full’ version, which is effective for preventing the ‘product abuse’ patterns described earlier.
Anna Clarke is the owner of an online PhD writing company. She is a successful entrepreneur with over 20 years’ experience in freelancing, academic dissertation writing consulting, specialising in Business, Economics, Finance, Marketing and Management.