3 Things to Consider Before Signing Up for a Free Trial

Who knew everything from yoga memberships to primetime TV to audiobooks for kids could be so cheap?

They’re not, really. Not at all. But ever since communities around the globe started sheltering in place as part of a widespread effort to curb the spread of Covid-19 , various apps have tweaked their subscriptions and blasted out marketing emails to offer potential customers free trials. Stressed out? Headspace, normally $13 per month, has assembled free collections for health care workers, teachers, and the general public. Kids stressing you out? Amazon-owned Audible is offering six categories of free kids books. Looking to work out? Peloton, Nike Training Club, CorePower Yoga, even a Chris Hemsworth workout app are all offering generous free trials. Feeling lonely? Never to be left out when it comes to technology trends, PornHub is offering free trials of its premium service.

It might be tempting to sign up for all kinds of free trials right now. Especially if your financial situation has become precarious, or you suspect it will in the near future. Free trials or “freemium” services can be incredibly useful, a means of testing out software and seeing how it works before taking the full subscription plunge. But taking advantage of what seems like a good deal in the time of coronavirus could end up creating a mess of your digital life in the long run. Here are a few things to consider before handing over your email and credit card info.

Free software trials (and bundles) were a trend long before the pandemic. Analysts who follow the software industry closely say these kinds of customer acquisition strategies have been used for years now. It might just seem like a novelty because companies are now trying to address price sensitivities in their messaging—or because the promotions are more directly in your face while you’re glued to screens at home.

“In business software there’s been a move from the perpetual license model to subscription models, or software-as-a-service, for a while now,” says John Santoro, a senior research director for Gartner. “And now it’s become popular in consumer software too. Subscription offerings allow the consumer to more effectively try it, and to feel like there’s a lot less invested if it doesn’t work out.”
Walt Piecyk, a partner and technology analyst at LightShed partners, points out that the telecom sector in the US has also been promoting free subscriptions. A few years ago T-Mobile started bundling a Netflix subscription with some of its family plans, a way to differentiate itself from its wireless competitors. Now T-Mobile is doing the same thing with a new streaming media service: Quibi, which charges up to $8 per month for 10-minute, ad-free videos. (Quibi is also one of the many apps offering a standalone free trial for 90 days.)“They’re hoping they can reduce churn,” says Piecyk, referring to the rate at which customers leave. “It’s a very expensive element in the industry, so oftentimes offering free services, even if they’re not for an extended period of time, is a way to improve churn.”

That said, companies are definitely trying to lure you in while you’re stuck at home. By now you’ve likely you’ve seen some kind of free trial promotion punctuated with phrases like “As our community comes together in this time of crisis...,” “During this extraordinary and difficult time...,” and “To help everyone stay active and engaged while at home…” Millions of people sheltering in place while nations struggle to contain a global pandemic is a nightmare scenario for most of us. But for some software makers, it’s a chance to prove their socially distant value and convince you to give their app a try.