When the offer is free

Try this for free! This is the commercial teaser we all see when we are offered a dozen of options. There is LinkedIn Premium, Spotify, Salesforce and the list goes on for a very long time. It is a way to get interested in a service or product. I myself tried ‘Today Calendar’ for free, than I upgraded, trials are to some extent a great solution. Try before you buy is a way to get into it. There are games that let you download their Demo, DLC’s that work for a week or two, then you decide, buy or fly!

It is an old marketing option that costs little and bring great reward for those employing the situation. There is however the detail. This we see in the article ‘Why are Amazon Prime customers angry?’ (at http://www.channel4.com/news/amazon-prime-charges-anger-customers-online). Several sources had the story, but Channel 4 read the clearest. The sub-line gives us the goods “Amazon defends a free trial of extra benefits, which ends in an automatic upgrade to paid membership costing £79 a year“. Amazon additionally responded with “Amazon says everyone who signs up to Prime gets an email telling them the duration of the free trial, how to avoid continuing to paid membership and how to cancel membership“. This seems clear enough. So when the guardian gave us ‘Giles Coren declares war on Amazon Prime over free trial‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/feb/16/giles-coren-declares-war-amazon-prime-free-trial-subscription), the impression was left with me that someone did not read their e-mail properly, now that person is crying wolf.

There is however another side to this debate. Should silent transfer be allowed, or should there be a mandatory change to an opt-in transfer? So, should the trial be auto cancelled after 30 days and in addition should we see a second confirmation after 30 days that the continuation is no longer free? This option is the one we usually see in software, when a trial is over, we see that the software no longer functions unless you start paying. On the other side we could consider that some consumers are too stupid to be allowed to have a credit card. The man considers himself an adult. He signed up for a trial, if we accept the response from Amazon that confirmation e-mails have been send, with the explanation on how to cancel it, he himself got into this scuffle by ignoring the message. The Guardian also shows another side that people seem to ignore. The two items involved is a tweet by Giles Coren “I mean, @amazon, offer a free trial in 2012, then quietly start charging £79 and never tell me. That’s what sicko porn sites do! I’ve heard“, so he has been charged for membership in 2012, 2013, 2014 and perhaps even 2015 and only now he ‘wakes up’? Now, this can happen, it has happened to many people, including me, yet 79 pounds is not a costs you easily oversee. To some it amounts to the 6 months fee from your internet provider, which should be taken into account. The second piece of information from Amazon is “Customers who sign up to a free trial of Prime receive an email informing them of the duration of the free trial and how to avoid continuing to pay Prime membership. Customers who become full Prime members can cancel their membership at any time and we will refund the full membership if the customer has not made any eligible purchases or used any Prime benefits“, which gives us the second part. So from that it would seem that Giles Coren must have used some of the services and now he is miffed on having paid for it. That conclusion I get from him not getting a refund, which means he had used the Amazon Prime services.

The article is not just an Amazon or an e-Commerce article. It is also an article that shows the unjustified demand of continued free services after the free trial ends. The two sides pulling on this are Amazon as well as pragmatic realism, as one Tweeter replied to Giles with “Shocking indictment of Oxford and private education as former student doesn’t understand the words ‘free trial’“, which pretty much sums up the ignorance people are showing when they accept free trial whilst not looking at the conditions. The one part I will also illuminate is the complaint we saw from a man called Richard Brown: “Regardless of the legality of the transaction and the stance that Amazon will take that it involves selection and a follow up email each year, the structure of this service is clearly designed to benefit from the customer’s lack of attention“. That too can be seen in two ways. I do agree with Richard on that Amazon should send a follow up e-mail on the subscription every year. These places can send you marketing mails until your hard drive has zero space left, but then shows a lack of ‘tenacity’ to inform their ‘customers’ via e-mail on the payment made, which I see should be a mandatory act in the first place (perhaps that happened, but no one mentioned it in any of the articles I saw).

It is the second statement from Richard Brown that bothers me “this service is clearly designed to benefit from the customer’s lack of attention”, not whether that is the case or not, but in regards to the consideration. This reminds me of the initial marketing when we saw the presentation from Microsoft on the launch of Windows 95. The slogan was ‘without even thinking‘, it was brilliant to some extent. Windows 95 was the first step towards people and true intuitive use of computers. Now, many (pretty much most users) are using their devices intuitive, but there is the added part we see that is at the core, marketing is all about getting a foothold, now we see part that implies (emphasize implies), is that consumers are either getting dim (not that unheard an idea), or that we are faced with two new elements, the first is ‘intuitive buying‘ and ‘intuitive marketing‘, the second one is the holy grail of achieving revenue. When used correctly it is seen as ‘Achieving influence without persuasion‘, there is an interesting article (at http://intuitiveconsumer.com/blog/intuitive-marketing-achieving-influence-without-persuasion/ ). It talks about the six mechanisms of influence used by intuitive marketing. They are ‘Trust: Intuitive marketing builds trust and relies on trust‘, ‘Consistency: Intuitive marketing is consistent and therefore communicates reliability‘, ‘Fluency: Intuitive marketing is easy on the mind‘, ‘Emotional reward: At the opposite end of the spectrum from high aspiration is the realm of small emotional rewards‘ and there are the final two ‘Aspiration‘ and ‘Aligned intent‘. As you see (especially after you read the linked article), the Amazon Prime situation seems to address 4 of the 6 elements of intuitive marketing, so when we see the Amazon Prime issue, is there deception? I personally say no! Amazon offered an agreement, one that gives you a cool down period of 30 days. The definition can be seen as “offer, acceptance, and consideration (payment or performance), based on specific terms“, this is what is at the heart of it all. The emotional response of Giles Coren with the reference to ‘that’s what sicko porn sites do!‘ which in my view holds no value, yet ‘the structure of this service is clearly designed to benefit from the customer’s lack of attention‘, the mention by Richard Brown is much better and decently more apt, but is it valid? ‘Lack of attention’ sounds nice for sure, but does that make the consumer less responsible? Especially when Amazon offers, “Customers who become full Prime members can cancel their membership at any time and we will refund the full membership if the customer has not made any eligible purchases or used any Prime benefits“, which is a decent counter offer, which was part of their offer as I see it. So first, the person gets a 30 day cool down and if the person has not used the service at all, they could get a refund. It seems to me that Amazon offers a decent service, so why do these events cause such a strong reaction?

The part I have not touched upon is ‘intuitive buying’. One vendor had this little slogan with their product ‘intuitive buying just like in an internet shop’. Now we get back to the initial Windows 95 slogan, this gives us in the end ‘buying without even thinking’. So we have a complete picture, but what neither article skates on is when will we see the accountability of the consumer. The person who was given a credit card, an adult who was supposed to be of sound state of mind. The person buying, was notified and then did not react. Intuitive buying does not make a person unaccountable, is that what the articles are steering to? No matter how many complaints we see, the clear indication is given that Amazon gave up front and it allows for correction in hindsight.

Hidden under this is the issue, not on the side of Amazon, but on our side, we consumers need to consider the clear truth that nothing is free! Should any internet offer be treated the same way trial software is? That remains valid, but if so, is that because consumers are no longer to be considered ‘adult’ or accountable, or is it because of another path of reasoning?

 

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