Friday, September 14, 2012

"Free" Trials - User Beware!

A recent article on PCWorld titled "The truth about free trials" caught my attention. It is quite lengthy and I had some ideas how to make the material more palatable. Let me begin with some background information.

Something that bothers me for quite some time are "Free Trials". Not only "free" manufacturer installed software packages that mostly have only one purpose, to make you pay for things like update subscriptions, license fees, upgrades to "pro" versions and so on.

Now all this junk has been joined by an ever increasing number of various offers of a wide variety of online services.

In my opinion some of these services are bordering on useless and/or the promised services lack a sound technical base. An example for the latter are in my opinion the numerous online data backup services. All these offers pitched to the unsuspecting consumer do not mention the speed problem.

Practically all normal Internet connections, whether via DSL, cable or wireless technology have the same big drawback in common: The transfer speed from your computer up to the service's computers is significantly slower than the download speed that you experience when you browse web pages or watch a video or peruse Facebook.

UPDATE 9-15-2012 (only 1 day later) re. online backup: Please read this article

Uploading large files like pictures, music and videos just takes too darned long to be practical!

Most online services offer free trials; sounds good, right?

But what happens when you realize that the service is actually not quite what you had expected and you want to cancel? Many users have nightmarish experiences.

PCWorld had a similar article already in 2006 and I will compare the results in an easy format. As to be expected there were services where canceling was easy and straightforward; there were services that took some detective work and tenacity to get rid of and then there were some that made it very difficult if not almost impossible to cancel. Nothing new here; everybody who years ago wanted to dump AOL has experienced that.

If you have ever listened to me on WTKM or are my customer you know that I call a spade a spade. Here are the names of the services PCWorld dealt with in 2006 and in 2012, grouped by difficulty to cancel.

BIG hassle, really hard Difficult & time consuming Easy 
2006 31% 22% 47%          of total number

AOL EarthLink Equifax Credit Watch Gold Consumer Reports Online

ESPN GameSpy Arcade

MSN Internet MLB Netflix GotoMyPC

NetZero RapidFax

Real Rhapsody

Real SuperPass
Reservation Rewards

The New York Times Select

The Wall Street Journal


BIG hassle, really hard Difficult & time consuming Easy 
2012 30% 42.5% 27.5%        of total number

TrustFax BeenVerified eFax

LifeLock GameFly Netflix

GameHouse CalorieKing Shockwave Unlimited

IdentityGuard YouSendit TrustedID

Spotify Foreclosure Radar Britannica Online

RealPlayer Super Pass Identity Protection SugarSync

Tech Support for Dummies Weather Channel Desktop Audible Listener Gold Adapted Mind

ESPN Insider Cook's Illustrated

IMDb RealtyTrac Hulu Plus

GoToMyPC Club Pogo Merriam-Webster

SociallyKnow Rhapsody

American Greetings

Dr. Laura

My Total Money Makeover

Blockbuster Total Access

Two things seem to be remarkable to me:
  1. Most of the services that in 2006 were a big hassle to cancel are gone for good and/or don't play a significant role anymore.

    Companies in this category in 2012 might take heed; the warning is written on the wall.
  2. The huge shift from 2006 to 2012 between the Difficult and the Easy categories. The percentages are reversed. Does this imply that it pays to make canceling difficult (but not next to impossible)?

    Has Netflix learned a lesson? They went from difficult to cancel to easy.
Please draw your own conclusions and please tell us about them in the comments. Thank you in advance.

As usual I welcome suggestions right here in the blog. 
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