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Online trial software is often unfair

30 Days Free TrialWherever you look online these days you can find trials of all kinds of software and services. Most of the trials provide you with full access to the program for 30 days or so and then degrade the service to a “lite” or “free” version if you do not make a payment or enter into a subscription. Yet even though this is widespread common practice it appears to take place without any real consideration for us, the users.

When someone gives you something and then takes part of it away you think it is unfair. For instance, let’s say I invite you round to my house for dinner. I serve up your meal and then before you have finished I take the plate away. Rude or what? But that is exactly what most software companies are doing by offering us a full plate of software and then removing some of the functions if we do not pay up.

This is confirmed by a series of studies on what has become euphemistically known as “crippleware” – software that gets automatically reduced in function if you do not cough up some cash. The research shows that when product “versioning” of this kind happens consumers perceive it as unfair. Indeed, they avoid using such services whenever possible. In fact, the research finds that people think this kind of practice is unethical.

What people actually prefer is getting the inferior product first. Consumers like getting the lesser product and then adding to its functionality when they pay, rather than getting the superior software and having its functions reduced if they do not pay. That way, nothing is “taken away” from them if they do not pay.

For software companies – including many “giant” companies who use “versioning” – this means a wholesale change in the way they sell their products and services. It means they have to switch from offering us everything to offering us less – and for a marketer and salesperson that goes against the grain. Yet, the research confirms, this is precisely what customers want.

The findings have implications way beyond software companies, of course. Social media services often provide the full package and downgrade it if we do not subscribe. Membership sites also do the same – giving us the full range of facilities and then removing them if we don’t cough up. But the research shows that what we should be offering is LESS.

If you offer software, online services of any kind or a membership site the “trick”  is to provide a trial which offers the limited range of features, free forever. Then point out what people are missing by not paying. One thing people do not like is “missing out”, so encouraging them not to lose out by sticking with the free trial will bring you more paying customers than if you do things the other way round.

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