Do You Fall for Free Trial Offers – Sales Tactics #7

October 9, 2007


Come on, sign up and give it a try.  The first 30 days are free, if you don’t like it just bring it back.

Sound familiar? How many times have you been talked into signing up for a service or buying a subscription because they offer a free trial?

“I’ll just see what it’s like”, you tell yourself.  “If I decide I don’t want it, I’ll just cancel.” The trial period goes by quickly, life gets busy, and suddenly the time to cancel has passed and you’ve been billed for the first month.  You call back to cancel when you see the charge come through on your card.  Sometimes they’ll give you a pro-rated refund other times they won’t give back a dime.

The free trial is an effective technique for sellers.  Their ideal scenario is that you will fall in love with their product or service and decide you must have it.  Another common situation is one where you aren’t really using their service but forget you signed up and the recurring payments on your credit card stay under your radar for a while before you cancel.

Of course a free trial can be a valuable offer to you as a consumer if there is a product or service you’d really like to try out before committing to it.  Just be aware that companies can use the free trial offer to entice you into closing the deal.

Warning Signs
• First 30 Days Free  • Absolutely No Obligation 
• Risk Free Trial        • First Issue Free

Tactic In Action
When I bought my last cell phone several years ago Sprint PCS was offering a 30 day trial of their Vision service that allowed you to browse their online content with your phone.  The salesperson convinced me to try the service when I activated my phone and sure enough the trial period came and went and I didn’t cancel. 

Not only did I get charged after the 30 days were over, Sprint also billed me for my “free trial”, they “forgot” to give it to me for free. The half hour I had to spend on the phone convincing customer service they had billed me incorrectly for something that was suppose to be free was definitely not worth the few minutes of time I surfed around the web on my phone.

Protect Your Paycheck
Trial Period Reminder – As soon as you sign up for a trial period, mark on your calendar two days before it ends to remind yourself to cancel.

Beware the Asterisk – Many free trial ads are followed by an asterisk that give the fine print of the offer.  Make sure you know the rules before giving anyone your credit card number.

Just Say No – Often times the process of canceling a free trial is more hassle than it’s worth.  Unless you’re actively looking to review and buy a product or service, just say no to free trials.

Sales Tactics
Free Trial Offer is the 7th sales trick in the Sales Tactics Revealed series. Be sure to check out the first six if you haven’t already: Don’t Miss Out, You’ll Be Sorry, Buy Now, Pay Later, Rebate Ransom, Sales Events, and Preferred Customer.


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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8 Responses to Do You Fall for Free Trial Offers – Sales Tactics #7

  • Bruce Judson

    There are really two kinds of free trial offers: The first kind is the type you discuss. Here, the user provides a credit card and is billed unless he or she cancels. As you note, this type of trial creates assorted risks related, to your time and money, by requiring you to cancel if you don’t want to continue the service.

    The second type of free trial creates no risk for the consumer. In many cases, providers offer free trials where the user does not need to provide his or her credit card. AT the end of the free trial, the user’s account is disabled unless he or she makes a positive action to continue the service. If the user does nothing, there’s no billing risk and the trial simply ends.

    We recently launched Search Free Apps ( which allows users to search over 600 hand-picked, valuable applications that are available free on the Internet. We decided to include the second type of free offer (where no credit card is required) n our database of free applications–because we believe this type of free trial is really positive for the consumer. The consumer does get to try something new, that is valuable, and may enhance his or her life or business, without the risk of spending anything.

    Bruce Judson

  • Ben

    I think you’re right Jeremy, companies would rather you became a devoted customer after the free trial. That’s what I was trying to say when I wrote:

    “Their ideal scenario is that you will fall in love with their product or service and decide you must have it.”

    I’m not trying to say that the sellers are devious, just attempting to shine some light on the tactics they use to get you to spend your money.

  • Jeremy Stein

    Sellers aren’t hoping you’ll accidentally pay for a month of service. It’s just not worth their time.
    They think you’ll see how great their service is once you try it. I don’t think sellers are being as devious as you portray them. The half hour you spent on the phone arguing over your bill cost the company too. I’m sure they’d prefer you never tried their service if you weren’t going to keep it.

  • ThirtyAndBroke

    Here is another tactic that is becoming a little more common online. When signing up for a free trial online, you may also be enrolling in membership for another service which isn’t made obvious to you. This has happened to me recently and was traced back to a free online trial I had signed up for. Granted it was only $1 per month, but I now read all terms thoroughly before signing up.

  • FinanceAndFat

    I couldn’t agree more. This is something I’ve become very aware of lately. Just today I was really tempted to sign up for the free trial at, but the more I thought about it, I just knew I wouldn’t cancel and I would have another drain on my budget and less money to pay off debts. Better to never open the door!

  • Raymond

    I don’t fall for trial offers. Sometimes I purposefully seek them out.

    — Particularly when it comes to getting credit reports after tapping out my free annual report.

    Usually you can subscribe for a free trial offer, get a free credit report and score, then later cancel the trial.

  • Mark from Smart Investing & Money Management

    It’s the same when I go shopping at the mall. I know what I need and I know when it is on sale.

    When I deviate from that objective is usually when I get pulled into the “free” or “trail offer” or “80% off” sales tactic. Generally I end up buying something I don’t need and the effort to return or cancel is more painful than what was the free offer.


  • Patrick

    Some free services may come with additional charges as well – even if you cancel.

    For example, say you get a free 30 day trial offer for a cable TV or satellite service. Often, if you keep the service you will never be charged for installation. Sometimes you may be, and then you have to go through the telephone calls.

    The problem is when you cancel your “free trial.” Sometimes the fine print states the installation is free, as long as you keep the service x-amount of time.

    Always read the fine print and ask questions. If you get a verbal answer, consider asking for it in writing. Great post.