Imagine you would always be confined to buying things without testing them first, with zero possibility of returning them. Imagine you couldn’t taste-test your tomatoes at the farmer’s market, or a pair of shoes before you commit to wearing it, or any of the other millions of products we test before buying (one way or another). Trial memberships aren’t a new concept — but they perfectly transfer situations like those mentioned above into digital life.
Trial memberships offer a free or paid period of time where users can access the full version of a service, product, or platform with no strings attached. This trial period lets your members experiment, explore, and evaluate your offering to decide if the service is right for you before making a payment.
Overall, it’s an excellent way to test out a product or service for yourself. But, as with any business model, there are pros and cons to consider before deciding if it’s the right fit for your company.
Pros of Trial Memberships
Obviously, there are a lot of reasons trial memberships work, and some of the most important ones include:
No More Commitment Fears
The average person in the US pays for 12 media and entertainment subscriptions every month. And that’s just the fun stuff, it doesn’t include subscriptions like health insurance, internet service, mobile service, tools they might use around the house, learning platforms, or grocery/ cosmetics subscriptions.
With that level of commitment already put into many products, customers don’t want to deal with any more of it. Trial memberships allow them to dip their toes in without making a full commitment or financial investment. Think of them like a date: you don’t just go up to someone on the street and ask them to marry you. First, you ask them out, then you build a relationship with them, and then you propose (if everything else worked up to that point.)
Lower Risks (for Everyone)
Trial memberships are great for business owners that want to test a new product or service before launching, and they’re even better if you want to make sure existing customers are satisfied. This is especially true for companies that offer recurring services.
By offering a trial period, customers can test what your product or service can do for them without risking their money. This allows them to make an informed decision and eliminates the doubt of whether or not they made the right choice.
You Can Build Your Email List
Trial memberships are an excellent way to test out your product and build relationships with users. As people try out your service, they’ll also leave you their email address (and their consent to be contacted for marketing purposes.) You can then use this list to nurture leads and build relationships with potential or existing customers.
You Can Test Your Product
Not sure you have a product-market fit for your membership site? Trial memberships enable you to run a relatively quick and accurate test to see how your target audience perceives your product or service. This gives you valuable data to help inform your decision-making and product development efforts.
Getting People’s Attention
People like free stuff, and a free trial is no exception. A free trial can help you draw people in, by providing an incentive for them to try out your product or service. This can be especially helpful if you have a competitive market or if your product or service is new and needs some extra exposure.
Lower Barriers to Entry
Trial memberships can also help you lower barriers to entry. Instead of having customers pay for a long-term subscription or upfront costs, they can take advantage of a trial offer. This makes it easier for customers to sign up without worrying about additional costs or commitments.
Understanding Your Target Audience
If you’re unsure what your customers want or need, a trial period can be a great way to learn more about them. By understanding how they use the product and what they like or don’t like, you can better decide how to customize your product or service.
Boosting Word-of-Mouth Marketing
Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective strategies for any business, large or small, regardless of industry. And trial memberships are a great way to encourage it, as they give people a chance to experience your product without any financial risk. Once they see how great it is, they’re likely to tell their friends and family about it.
Cons of Trial Memberships
Nothing’s ever perfect, and trial memberships have their drawbacks as well. Some of the biggest cons include:
This isn’t meant to scare you off, but there are quite a lot of moving parts that come with running a trial membership program. Consider how long the trial lasts, what features are included, and how you’ll handle customer support for trial members. You also need to think of how you plan to take your free members from free to, well, paid (otherwise, you won’t be able to actually increase your membership site revenue)
Not to mention all the legal aspects, such as making sure you disclose everything in terms of the agreement and, in some situations, ensuring people explicitly accept the Terms and Conditions, as well as the fact that you may use their email addresses to send them marketing emails.
Higher Cancellation Rates
…And lower retention rates and Customer Lifetime Value (CLV.)
According to a study published in the American Marketing Association in 2015, the Customer Lifetime Value of free trial members was 59% lower than that of paying members.
It’s not a given, but this might point to the fact that when something is free, people add less perceived value to that product or service. Thus, they’re also more likely to not want to pay for it.
The Risk of Not Converting Users
Giving people the option to pick a trial membership is one thing — converting all those people into actual paying members is a completely different thing. If not enough members start paying, you’ll be left with many free members and very little revenue.
To increase your chances of success, you need to have a well-designed strategy, a compelling product or service, and the right promotion methods in place.
People Taking Advantage
Finally, some people might take advantage of the trial offer by signing up multiple times and using it without any intention of ever becoming a paying customer. It’s a harsh reality of selling digital products (like membership on a website), as the internet allows for anonymity, and there are no real restrictions in place.
The best way to combat this is by requiring customers to create an account before accessing the trial. This helps you protect yourself from fraudulent behavior and create a database of potential customers.
So, Is a Trial Membership Right for You?
The answer is “it depends.”
If you’re selling a relatively low-hanging fruit product or service and have a great marketing strategy in place, you may benefit from offering a trial membership. On the other hand, if your product is more premium, offering a free trial may work (because it helps people get a taste of what they can do with a membership on your site without the financial risk associated with it). At the same time, trial memberships for premium products can backfire, as people might not consider the product or service valuable enough to pay for it after a free trial.
Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The best way to learn is through…trial and error. So don’t be afraid to test things you and see what works for your specific membership site and audience base.