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The Problem with Giving Customers Free Stuff


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Why freebies aren’t always a good thing…

It’s the same old story that’s been played out dozens of times – a company embarks on what it thinks will be an excellent branding exercise only to have it blow up in its face.
Whether it’s the questionable logic behind the McDonalds’ #mcdstories or various companies using natural disasters (regrettably not the mid-90s WWF tag team) to try and promote using the downtime to shop online.

I Don’t Like it!

Crying Child
The most recent example of this is probably one of the strangest, because the brand behind the faux pas has traditionally been so good at protecting their image – Apple.
They decided, as a gift, to place U2’s latest album onto 500 million iTunes accounts. That’s a pretty cool gift, right? Giving 500m people an album they’d be expected to pay £9.99 for. Well… not so much. See, people’s iTunes accounts are pretty personal things (I have a selection of embarrassing tracks on mine that will never make the public domain) and not everyone likes U2 as much as Apple’s marketing department.
In fact, in one of the bigger steps we’ve ever seen a company take, Apple had to release a clean-up tool to automatically remove the U2 album from people’s computers like it was some sort of malware that had infected their computer.

Throwing Money Away

Throwing Money Away
So what can we all learn about this, beyond the obvious note that U2’s musical popularity has probably never been lower than it is in 2014?
Well, there’s always an issue when you give the customer something they didn’t ask for – they might not want it. Sometimes it’s a positive (I recently was sent two free mugs for reviewing a removal company online as a “Thank you”), but in the realm of digital marketing it can become a negative.
I’m losing track of the number of excellently designed ecommerce sites who I’ve visited and then been offered 10% off a purchase for no reason when I’m trying to leave the site. I’ve not asked for this discount, I’ve not sought it out and my intent was never to purchase. All that has happened is that this brand has now trained me to look for the discount, to assume that I need never pay full price for these products because there will always be a discount code somewhere.
I’ve never been presented any reputable statistics that have shown me this is anything other than the definition of a short-term play by a business. In fact, the stats almost all point to it having a detrimental impact on the long-term goal of getting a customer over the line into a third purchase.

Unless They’ve Asked for It…

U2 - NO!
Rather than blindly offer the customer a voucher just because it looks like they’re about to leave the site – make your strategy reflect rewarding those customers who have already purchased from you, or those who are already part of a cycled marketing strategy (we will only consider discount codes as a last resort in our final round of remarketing emails, for example).
And never, ever, try to give them a free U2 album…unless they’ve asked for it.

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2021 Ecommerce Stats & Trends Report