Category Archives: Retail

Free to Play and the European Commission

“The use of the word ‘free’ (or similar unequivocal terms) as such, and without any appropriate qualifications, should only be allowed for games which are indeed free in their entirety, or in other words which contain no possibility of making in-app purchases, not even on an optional basis”

Free With IAP SmallAs you may or may not know, the European Commission are meeting with mobile providers to discuss “free to play”. There’s a really nice write-up about it by Jas Purewal here, so go and read that for a lot more background detail than I’m going to repeat.

Free With IAP Single Page

Regarding the adverting of games as free, this is mostly down to Apple’s labelling. Some simple global text changes in the app store could solve this (as shown on the right).

They’d also need to change the “free app” chart to either only display apps with no IAP, or change the wording of that too.

Spotify - free? Of course, as Jas points out, the press release begins by talking about “apps” and then quickly moves on to “games”, which seems rather clear of the direction they intend to take this. There are many other products and apps in the world that use the “get it for free, but pay for more if you want to” model, I suspect they’ll be left un-touched. Spotify for example, specifically words its copy to position itself as a free service, despite the fact that I pay £9.99 a month for it. Apple’s own free iBooks app is another simple example of a non-game which “contains the possibility of making in-app purchases”.

My take on this? I absolutely agree with the concerns around the wording in apps aimed at children, and think evocative copy and calls to action should be restricted, as many other forms of advertising aimed at children are (Apple has recently made moves to address this by making a “kid friendly” section of the app store that has tighter restrictions on debs before their apps will be accepted).

However I absolutely disagree with the idea that apps that have optional payments shouldn’t be advertised as “free”. I’ve played a lot of free to play games, and I’ve spent money on maybe a dozen at most. The rest of them I’ve played … for free.

Amazon’s Devious Pricing Move With Prime “Upgrade”

Imagine you run a large online retailer shipping physical goods out to your customers. Imagine also that at some point in the past you introduced a new service whereby, for a yearly fee, your customers could get any item shipped next day for free.

Imagine now that you think you’ve made a mistake with this service. You’ve looked at the books and it’s costing you a lot of money to ship small items. No worries, you think, we’ll just exclude a huge number of small items from the offer, and only ship them with larger items. Sure, it lowers the value of the service to the customers who signed up for it, but it’ll upsell them to buying more large items as well as removing shipping costs on the smaller items. It’s win-win (for me, the business).

Imagine that it’s still not looking rosy though. What you really want to do is increase the cost of the yearly service’s subscription by rather a large amount. But will your customers go for that, in addition to the reduced value they’re already getting? How do you sell this price hike to them, and make them happy about it too?

How Amazon are introducing Prime’s new streaming feature. Click for full size.

Imagine, if this isn’t already abundantly clear, that you’re Amazon. Your solution, it transpires, is this: bundle in another service.

Amazon are now adding the ability to stream movies & TV shows to your various devices, to Prime members. Have a look at the way they’re selling this, on the right. “Great news”, it says, “in 3 days Prime will include unlimited streaming”.

Notice what it doesn’t say – “for free” (I suspect the lawyers were very clear about that) – but also notice that it doesn’t mention the price increase for Prime which coincidentally has just happened at exactly the same time. Prime will now cost £79 per year, whereas previously it was £49 – a fairly hefty increase of 60%

Now I’m sure that if you previously used Amazon’s streaming service this is good news to you. The new Prime would be a 35% price cut over subscribing to the separate services. However, if there were large numbers of people happily subscribing to both, you’ve got to wonder why Amazon would force this merger when a “roll your own” premium subscription would be as easy for them to offer (in much the same way as cable and satellite TV companies do).

For customers who have no interest in Amazon’s video streaming, and were already starting to feel the value proposition of Prime strained by previous changes, you’ve got to ask yourselves if this is a step too far. For me it is, and I won’t be renewing.

However I suspect that for many, the price hike will go unnoticed until after their renewal date, the video streaming they never asked for or wanted will go largely unused, and Amazon will be very happy indeed.

How to Deceive and Mislead Your Customers in an Attempt to Get a Sale

An offer to upgrade Parallels Desktop.

An offer to upgrade Parallels Desktop. Click for full size.

Being a Mac kind of guy (sorry), I still find I have to use Windows at work for the occasional bit of software that either isn’t available, or isn’t a 100% feature match across versions (it won’t surprise you to find out most of this stuff is Microsoft Office).

Occasionally Parallels pops up a little offer window attempting to up-sell me to the latest version. Today the offer really caught my eye, but not really for the right reasons.

On quickly looking at this, it implies that the upgrade is being offered at a huge discount of 79% off, with another 6 apps thrown in to the offer for free. You get this impression because of the large text that says “Upgrade to Parallels Desktop 9 79% off and get 6 more apps for free”.

However when you look at the prices (the small ones in red, heavily scored out so as to be deliberately difficult to read), the upgrade usually costs £34.99. The same price as this offer.

What Parallels are actually offering is “Upgrade to version 9 at full cost and get 6 more apps for free, giving you a total discount of 79% over the cost of buying all 7 things individually” which is not the same thing.

I doubt very much that the people who put this offer’s copy together didn’t know what they were doing. I wonder if they thought about how it could hurt their user’s perception of their brand, though – deliberately attempting to mislead in order to convert a sale is not the basis of a long term happy customer relationship.

(Incidentally, they really should make more of the “limited time” of this offer to increase conversions. That particular piece of information is very easy to miss, despite being repeated.)

Is Your Service Unique?

Are you the only one that can provide the service that you do?

We were recently shopping for a new car (turns out that toddlers and 3 door hatchbacks don’t really mix – a surefire way to ruin your back as you get them in and out of the thing). We had a good idea of what we wanted, so headed off to the nearest showroom. The main thing we wanted at this point was a test drive, to see if the car we had our eyes on was a good fit for us.

The problem was we were on a bit of a time limit – the nipper needs feeding and naps on a rough schedule, so we had a couple of hours from arriving until we had to leave. No, scratch that, our time limit wasn’t the problem. We’d allowed a sensible amount of time for what we wanted to achieve.

No, the problem was that the salesman couldn’t find the keys for the car he wanted us to test drive. The second problem was that he left us unattended for over 40 minutes while he hunted for it. The third problem was that when we decided to leave, he wasn’t very apologetic for wasting our time.

The main problem, as it turns out, is that this was just the nearest showroom, not the only showroom. A couple of weekends later we went to a different one (not that much further away, and with comparable prices), and got the test drive we wanted. Within a couple of hours of arriving they had made a sale. If your product isn’t unique, you can’t afford to act like you’re doing your potential customers a favour.

Two weeks later I got a phone call from the first salesman, asking if we’d like to come back for that test drive.

(The car’s great, by the way.)

What’s Worth More in Retail, £5.50 or a Happy Customer?

So, here I am trying to buy just over £300’s worth of furniture from an online retailer. Nothing terribly unusual about that – I’ve spent way more in single online orders in the past, I consider myself a pretty confident online shopper, and this is a well known UK retailer.

There are a couple of things about this transaction that are really rubbing me up the wrong way though.

Firstly, I keep getting error pages during the checkout process. The last time this happened was during the “taking our payment” stage, which has left me not entirely sure if the order’s been placed or not. (The website being so flaky at the moment, I’m not entirely sure I trust the accounts / your orders section.)

The error page also has a line on it saying that if I’d like to place an order, I can phone them up. Calls will cost at least 5p per minute. Now hang on, why on earth would you charge your customers for the privilege of buying something from you? Ok there are certain cases where I can see the benefits of this, but really only if you charge your customers a lot so buying from you becomes a desirable status symbol. Charging a small overhead just makes me feel like you’re penny pinching.

I have no idea how long the order call would take. My experience of corporate phone lines makes me think 5-10 minutes of being on hold, followed by 5 minutes for the order. But maybe the computer system is misbehaving for their phone staff as well, so the call will either be wasted, or take much longer. But I’m going to estimate that placing my £300 order would cost me somewhere between 50p and £1.

Similarly, I am being charged £5 for delivery. This is a flat fee, and doesn’t scale depending on the number, size, or weight of items I’m buying. Again, it’s possible to look at this as “wow, having two pieces of heavy furniture delivered for so little is a bargain”, but since I don’t really have any anchor here I’m seeing it as “wow, I’m spending £300+ and they’re trying to stiff me for an extra £5”.

So overall my opinion of this retailer has plummeted, mainly through the perception that they’re trying to unfairly add an extra 2% cost on to my order.  User experience – it’s not all about the colour of buttons, you know.