Rethink Commerce Blog

Why a 30 days trial might not be enough?

Posted on August 20th, 2008 by

Most (non-geek) people think that shareware is a type of software. Well, actually is not a type of software, it’s a way of marketing software. From the vendor’s perspective it looks like offering a 15-30 days trial should be more than enough to test the product and buy it before it expires. But even with a trial period:

  • Some of the users will request a refund after the purchase saying the product is not doing what they need even after they tested it in the trial period;
  • Some of the users are not convinced to buy the product in the trial period.


The beauty of shareware is that you can test all the product features before purchasing. Actually, most of the times, the user doesn’t get to see all the product features from at least these reasons:

  • He doesn’t use a software on a daily basis (well, unless it’s an Operating system or security software) so he might use it once while in trial, and the next time he needs it it’s already expired. So he either buys it, but he didn’t really test it, either he just shops around for something else.
  • He doesn’t need all the features in the trial period. Let’s say he bought a nice digital camera, and he is now on a shopping spree for software to edit the pictures he took on a sunny day in the mountains. He downloads a batch photo editor, tries it, works great, he buys it. However, next month it’s raining. Now the user sees that the nice batch photo editor does not handle well sharpening. Nor contrast. Well, actually he can only use it for nice, sunny pictures. Or he just discovers in time that it doesn’t really do everything and he doesn’t buy it.
  • The buyer might not be the actual user – this happens especially in business environments where the purchase decision is taken by someone else. Sometimes the user can’t convince the purchasing department to buy the software, or the other way around, software gets bought, but nobody needs it.
  • User simply finds a better product. Sure, if he decided to purchase your product, it shouldn’t be your problem, but still, he can request a refund, hoping he will get the money back to order the other product. Or he buys directly the other product and you wonder why it hasn’t converted.

Ok, so if trial period is not a bullet proof solution for converting sales and prevent refunds what can you do about it?

Tips for converting more trials and preventing refunds

Besides unconventional trial methods you could try one of the following:

  • Offer longer trial periods or renew the trial period. First of all, offering a longer trial period (let’s say 60 days like Microsoft does it for the Office suite) it’s not going to hurt your bottom line. People do use a piece of software for more than 60 days, so they will buy it eventually, even if they got to use it for free a longer time. Second, trial period renewals are easy to implement (you just need a “request new trial” button next to the buy button) and it just gives the user the chance to use the product one more time, or see more features and functionalities.
  • 30 days money back guarantees. Making the purchase risk lower is always a winning strategy in selling software. I’ve seen a lot of debates if offering a money back guarantee will decrease your final revenues. But the truth is that most of the people, even if they don’t use/like the product will not get through the trouble of requesting the money back, especially if we are not talking about huge amounts.
  • Send special offers during trials. Usually if the user really needs the product, he will buy it either upfront, either in the first couple of days after the trial begins. This means it should be quite safe to send him a promotional offer in 1 week after the trial start without affecting your bottom line. If you are uncomfortable about this, you can send the offer just after the trial ends.
  • Alternative payment methods. I’m thinking about TrialPay – the user gets the product for free if he purchases something else or just makes an action that has a commercial value (registering for a service, subscribing to a magazine) to some third parties willing to pay you for the software.
  • Capturing uninstalls and fights back with special deals. Once the user deletes the software from his computer, it’s almost impossible to get it back. That’s why the uninstall moment is sometimes the last opportunity to convert with a promotional offer.
  • SAAS – software as a service. The user pays a monthly fee for using the software. It doesn’t need to request a refund, because if he doesn’t need it anymore he stops paying for it. And although it might look cheaper in the shopper eyes because he doesn’t need to pay the full price up-front, it might bring you more long term revenues.
  • Make a good display of product features, usage requirements and strong documentation to prevent refunds. Sometimes a product might have wonderful features, it’s just that is harder to understand and use by the average people. But if you explain things better, chances are that the users will get more satisfaction from it, and that decreases your refund risk.
  • Have good support and keep all your communication channels open. A product that doesn’t work or an unresponsive support is a sure path to refunds. Sometimes is cheaper to hire a new support guy or work on product improvement than giving out refunds.

Shareware is not bullet proof. But you can make it better.

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Cristian Dorobantescu

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Comments (4)

  • Larppa says: August 24th, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Or maybe we should use open source for those common tasks.

  • Fabrice says: September 3rd, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    for sure, for some people the trial period should be lifetime, there are always people not very active.. but what is the average time between the user starts to use a trial and he decides to buy ? do you have any stats about that ? because we have this and most people don’t wait the end of the trial to buy.

  • Mike says: December 16th, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    For me, the trial period is probably the most important factor – it helps eliminate support issues since it allows the user to find out if they really like the software. The other big factor is the quality of the support you do offer. A good percentage of people like to know that support is available should they need it.

  • Jonathan Wood says: March 18th, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    As a shareware publisher, 30 days always seemed like plenty of time. However, as a shareware consumer, I’ve found it is often not enough. The main problem for me is I have many projects going on at once. So I may download software to review it but then feel pressured to move to other projects before being able to come back to that software.

    Some authors will limit the trail to a certain number of uses. To me, this makes much more sense. Unfortunately, my own software doesn’t yet limit by the number of uses but this will change in the future.