Gini Dietrich

eCommerce Marketing: Do Free Trials Work?

By: Gini Dietrich | March 30, 2011 | 
66

I was talking to Erik Hare yesterday about how we both have blog posts in some sort of process for days, sometimes even weeks. I’ve already written shells of the blog posts for Friday, Sunday, and Monday. And I have a half-written guest post for Troy Claus.

Typically, I walk Jack Bauer and I think about that day’s intro (and also curse Marcus Sheridan because I know he’s still asleep…long after I finish my the walk AND my writing).

But today? Today I have nothing. I mean, literally nothing.

So what do I do for inspiration? I head over to the Harvard Business Review blogs. I’m sure to find something there.

Let’s see if I’m right.

There is a lot on the “problem” of entrepreneurship in America and quite a bit on failure.

Been there, done that.

There are a couple of pieces on the New York Times paywall and one of them is from Alexandra Samuel (who I love). That could be interesting.

Even the 10 most popular aren’t really striking my fancy.

No. I know the reason I’m not creative this morning and maybe you can help.

Yesterday we spent more than half our day discussing ecommerce pricing. We’re really stabbing in the dark here because no one on the team is an ecommerce marketer. And do you know, NO ONE writes about it (I’ll soon change that)?!

No. I found leaked information on how AOL makes their money. How to market to people who abandon the cart. Lots on the legalities of doing business online (who knew you have to learn an entirely different language?). Even information on using an outside email marketing company to deliver your information (vs. keeping it inside your content management system). BTW, TJ McCue wrote that article and doesn’t make a recommendation in there, but I saw him comment on a blog that he was most impressed with StreamSend.

But I can’t find anything on whether or not to give free trials. How long to give free trials. What to offer in the free trial. Whether or not to get credit card information before giving a free trial. The stats on who leaves a site if they’re asked for their credit card number before gaining access to a free trial. The conversion rates on free trials to subscriptions. Not even stats on who even comes back to the site after registering for a free trial.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

In our focus group of two, Lisa Gerber says, if a site asks for her credit card information before giving her a free trial, she leaves the site. And I say, if they ask, I give it, test the crap out of the free trial, and then decide whether or not I’m going to cancel.

So, you see, we can’t come to a consensus.

What do I do when I can’t find information that is eventually going to be valuable to you? I ask YOU!

You tell us. What do you think?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks,ย co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She alsoย is the lead blogger atย Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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66 Comments on "eCommerce Marketing: Do Free Trials Work?"

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KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 4 months ago
I’m with Lisa. Just happened to me this morning. An organization that I love emailed me and offered a report. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I clicked through, mostly because it seemed relevant and, like i said, I love the company. Nowhere in the email was there any mention of money. Nor on the landing page. I filled in my info, and then saw that the submit button was a paypal button. I thought, what the heck, I’ll click and see what they were charging. Ding! $1400!!! With no warning. I abandoned my cart fast. In general, I… Read more »
KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 4 months ago

and yes, I agreed with Lisa and not you, Gini. Man I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt me. At least we still have the toilet paper!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@KenMueller I think your example of the report is completely different – that sounds like they were trying to pull one over on you. I don’t like that one bit! But I hear you on your second paragraph. I’m totally cool with you not agreeing with me. As long as we still have the toilet paper!

KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich yes, a report is different, but the way it was presented, it seemed like something a bit different. It surprised me for this company.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@KenMueller Yeah – that would be totally surprising to me. Don’t act like there’s not a charge only to whop people with a fee. I’d be curious to know what their shopping card abandon rate is.

johnfalchetto
5 years 4 months ago
Depends on what you’re selling Gini. I think the whole Premium model really depends on what you are selling. It works brilliantly for apps. we all use free apps and choose to upgrade if we want. Some give us 30 days free trials, other unlimited and we can always upgrade. When it comes to expertise and people’s time, I dont believe free trials offer any value, quite the opposite. A report, ebook, should all be paid for, upfront. Saying that I just made the move to pay for HBR online after years of reading it for free. This brings us… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 4 months ago
I agree with Lisa. But here is my viewpoint. It is similar to White Papers. Make the user give you enough information to ensure future contact. Then do what Norton Anti Virus does. Have a pop up or reminder the trial is ending and to keep going they need to pay and here is what they will lose. If they do not sign up ask for a short RELEVANT survey of why. I capitalized relevant because often they aren’t and I wonder who wrote the survey questions. They should be from the user viewpoint not what the sellers thinks it… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 4 months ago

@johnfalchetto @KenMueller I agree John for certain products/services should be paid for up front. With the kicker of if you know the user will find true value and benefit once they do a free trial…then you will have a lot o conversions. It also is not as much about product as the user. There needs to be a match. How do you reduce the number of free trials from people who aren’t a fit for your product and sometimes a fee up front will do that.

KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 4 months ago

@HowieSPM @johnfalchetto like a lot of online things it comes down to properly communicating and managing expectations. I can’t tell you how often I get emails from big name companies that are respected in the industry, and they tell me about some new software or enterprise solution, and I can’t figure out what the heck it does! Give me a short video or tutorial that shows me how it works, what it will do for me, and what the interface looks like. That would help me decide whether it’s a fit for me. Don’t leave me guessing.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@johnfalchetto I just did the same with HBR! And don’t think you weren’t in my head during our meeting yesterday. I guess what we’re really trying to decide is what do we offer the people who’ve never heard of us? Is the blog enough (it won’t change and will always be free) to engage them and give them what they need to make a purchase decision? Perhaps it is.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@HowieSPM Please send your invoice, and yourself, to my office ASAP.

joey_strawn
5 years 4 months ago
For me, I tend to lean on Lisa’s side of the fence as well. If I’m asked for my credit card beforehand it gives me the sense that they don’t think their product is good enough for me to want it after I use it and they’re banking on me forgetting to jump through the cancel hoops. That might just be me jaded from free issues of Entertainment Weekly, but the point usually holds. If what you’re putting out there is of the highest quality, useful and what I need, you bet your ass you’ll get my card info after… Read more »
joey_strawn
5 years 4 months ago

@HowieSPM Amen

johnfalchetto
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich I agree with dannybrown on this, the blog is the shop front and should remain free.

If you start giving away more where do you draw the line? Again I think we need to make a big difference between apps. and content, or products vs. expertise.

rachaelseda
5 years 4 months ago
I’m with Lisa, I think it’s one more barrier. More so than that I have done this before and they make you call to cancel and you typically have to jump through a million hoops to actually cancel and not get charged. Personally, this has made me nervous and apprehensive about sharing my credit card for a “free trial” because if it is free…then why should I share my credit card? The payment part should come if I like the product which if I do, I will want to give you my credit card information and continue using the service/product.… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 4 months ago

@joey_strawn don’t worry Joey. You still have the Thunder. I am from NY. We steal Thunda!

write4unj
write4unj
5 years 4 months ago
I agree with Lisa — if it’s free, it’s free. I refuse to give out my credit card number unless I’m actually buying something. Too many companies make it too hard to cancel and hope you’ll just give up. Or they don’t notify you that it’s the end of the trial period and just start billing you. As far as whether to offer a free trial, it depends what is being offered. For a book or report it wouldn’t make sense. But for a system or process, it would. If a free trial will help “enchant” people (as Guy Kawasaki… Read more »
BobReed
BobReed
5 years 4 months ago

I’m a fan of the test drive. I downloaded Apple’s photo software, Aperture on Monday. Apple is giving me 30 days gratis, and as previous posts have stated, Apple reminds me of how many days I have left until all the potential goodness I’m playing with goes away. The opposite is a site like Third Tribe — $97 bucks up front and $47 every month after. It tells me what I’m getting, but I’d rather know what I’ll really get based on a month of actual experience. Show me first, ask me later.

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg
5 years 4 months ago
I have to say, I am with Lisa on this too! We discourage our e-commerce clients from taking info they dont actually NEED! If it’s a free trial, you dont *need* the card info. Many of our clients ask about not being responsible for stored credit card numbers, which is something to consider. How is your database structured? If you collect numbers, are they encrypted, we are amazed when potential new customers say other developers have access to the numbers or we take over a site that has card numbers not encrypted. With privacy and safety concerns all around, not… Read more »
rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel
5 years 4 months ago
Content is a tricky sell these days. Most folks can get 90% of what they THINK they need for free, so they are loathe to pay up front for anything. In my experience, successful long-term monetization comes from selling a whole content experience (almost like SaaS), not just one-off papers, books, webinars, etc. tied to a single topic. Sure those sell, but if you really want to get recurring revenue you have to provide a comprehensive solution to a problem, or better yet a passion. Tools and products to help people really take actionable steps in their businesses are worth… Read more »
Marcus_Sheridan
5 years 4 months ago

Sorry to jump in so late here Gini but I just woke up ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sounds like I could fit well on your team though. If there’s one place where I’m a complete dufus, it’s with ecommerce.

Notwithstanding, free trials should be the model, IMO, if it’s an option.

Marcus

wabbitoid
5 years 4 months ago
Frist, thank you! I always point to the scene in “Amadeus” when Mozart is asked to produce the piece that is due shortly. “It’s done!” he proclaims. “Where is it?” is the natural response. “Right here,” Mozart concludes with a tap on his temple, “In my noodle.” This anecdote is very useful, not only because it does explain my process for writing. It’s also a great excuse for procrastination and, when pressed, a claim to genius. ๐Ÿ™‚ But on the topic of the day – do free giveaways really encourage return customers? There isn’t a business that doesn’t sweat this… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@Marcus_Sheridan LOL! Brat! So you could join the team and we’ll all look at each other and wonder about ecommerce. Awesome!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@joey_strawn @HowieSPM Now my head hurts again.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@rachaelseda Lisa is LOVING that everyone agrees with her. She said, “I’m kicking your ass!” Ouch.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@write4unj This is actually really helpful because, the way you describe, it sounds really unethical. And that is something we’re not. Thanks for bringing a different bent!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@BobReed So you didn’t have to give your credit card number to Apple to test drive?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@sydcon_mktg I might have to hire you to come in for a couple of days and help us think this through, Jen!

jkretch
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich I can’t believe how many points you have. I should start considering a point cap until I catch up ๐Ÿ˜›

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@jkretch What?! No caps!! You’d better just start commenting on more blogs.

DannyBrown
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich @Marcus_Sheridan I sell lessons for $9.97 per month…

BobReed
BobReed
5 years 4 months ago

Not at all. Just downloaded like any other free app.

C_Pappas
C_Pappas
5 years 4 months ago
The title of this blog really caught my eye because it contianed the word ‘ecommerce’. Now I understand it can have a few meanings but none of which, to me anyways, would involve a free trial. Ecommerce to me means online shopping, as in clothes, shoes, accessories, books, etc. Not in other instances where you can purchase software online or subscriptions to things like Livefyre, for example, this makes sense (I just have not associated them with ecommerce). There are 2 things that I have almost fallen for. First, its the free trial scheme. Usually they ask for a credit… Read more »
Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich @sydcon_mktg Love this idea.

dino_dogan
dino_dogan
5 years 4 months ago
This is an area that I think A LOT about. There are indeed many facets in getting it rght, but two basic principles that you coud follow are these. 1. Is there someone else doing/offering similar service/product? If yes, use their system, test it and be very cognizant of wha parts of the system create friction in your brain-heart and which parts of the system suck you in further without you even noticing any amount of friction. 2. If no one is doing something similar, go with your gut and expect to make mistakes, forgive yourself and move on. I… Read more »
sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg
5 years 4 months ago

@Lisa Gerber @ginidietrich Works for us!! ๐Ÿ™‚

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel
5 years 4 months ago

I like this model, for software that you can control the functionality of.

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich @rachaelseda Only you guys can make it a competition.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber
5 years 4 months ago

@rustyspeidel @rachaelseda that was EXACTLY my point when i told @ginidietrich that I was kicking her ass. : ) everything is a competition.

Gazingforth
Gazingforth
5 years 4 months ago

Why not find the perfect middle ground? Have an initial free trial period, and if they want to continue the free trial, they have to give Credit Card information. I have no idea if this is the most effective idea, but it would keep people from being scared, and allow you to have the more solidified handle on your potential customers.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm
5 years 4 months ago

Just agreeing with others that 1) I won’t give my CC up front and 2) I need that trial period to see what works, what doesn’t, if it improves my workflows, if I need support, if they have decent support and so on. It does vary per what the item is; is it software, is it content? That will impact how I use it on a regular basis, my ROI. Interesting to see what data you find, FWIW.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@Lisa Gerber @rustyspeidel @rachaelseda When you work here EVERYTHING is a competition!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@rustyspeidel But you don’t like it if it’s, say, content?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@DannyBrown Tell me about the $9.97, Danny. Why did you choose the price point? Why not $9.98 or $9.99?

joey_strawn
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich @DannyBrown Because 7 sounds sexy. I’m pretty sure that’s the scientific reason, although I’m no scientist. I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once in my life though.

DannyBrown
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich Because it’s more than 6, and 5 is just neither here nor there.

TJMcCue
TJMcCue
5 years 4 months ago

Hi Gini! Have you looked at MarketingSherpa? I thought I saw a report that included just what you’re looking for. I’ll try and check later tonight.

TJ

p.s. Thanks for the shoutout.

rachaelseda
5 years 4 months ago

@ginidietrich @Lisa Gerber @rustyspeidel @rachaelseda Bahaha too funny!! I love it! I’d hate to see a company dodge ball game.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@TJMcCue I hadn’t gone to MarketingSherpa – I’ll do that now. Thanks!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 4 months ago

@3HatsComm I think I’m going to concede this point and move ahead with the free trial, no credit card.

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