Whether the product is a gym membership, a magazine, a weight-loss program or teeth whitener, low- or no-cost introductory offers are a frequently used marketing tactic for grabbing your attention, and your money. Astute consumers are should stay aware that there sometimes is a catch. Your Better Business Bureau offers this free advice regarding free trial offers. (But without the strings that accompany most things that are “free.”)
The human trait they are counting on
At least since the days of the mail-order record clubs, Americans have been falling for attractive introductory offers of products. After a few weeks those same people have been finding themselves filled with regret as they receive an endless supply of the product, along with the bills for those shipments.
Product hawkers are assuming that you are just like everyone else: a person who barely looks at the fine print before clicking the “I agree” button. Once they have gotten your attention and then actually gotten that response from you, you are hooked. The most important advice that can be given to anyone who is considering signing up for such offers is to pay attention to the terms of agreement. Keep these points in mind:
• The smaller the type, the more likely it contains information that they do not want you to know.
• A frequent trick used in fine print is the spelling out of numbers. They know that numerals are more eye-catching and that some people scan quickly just to see if numerals are in the agreement.
• The type may be greyed out, or in a color that is hard to read against the background color.
• Look for pre-checked boxes. That box may be giving the company permission to continue the offer past the free trial period, or it may sign you up for additional products for which you must send payment. Click to uncheck any boxes that you don’t want to agree to.
• If the wording is too unclear or confusing and you aren’t sure that you understand what is being said in the agreement, do not sign up for it.
Schedules, conditions and extra charges
When considering introductory offers, pay attention to the scheduling of the offer. Most have a time limit. Once it passes without you cancelling your order, you may continue receiving the product (or other products) and you may be billed for those shipments. That’s why it is a good idea to literally mark your calendar to remind yourself of when the offer ends. And remember to check your credit card statements frequently to be sure unwanted charges are not going on your card.
Find out what the conditions are, especially concerning cancellation procedure. Is there a limited time to respond if you want to cancel? Learn exactly what the procedure will be for cancelling and whether you will have to pay even if you do not want a product that is sent.
Research the company online. Type the name of the company along with words such as “complaints” or “rip-off” into your search engine and see what others have to say about their experiences. Don’t just rely on “testimonials” that the company may have placed in their ad. Those can be faked along with the accompanying photos of “happy customers.”
Check out the company with the BBB to see if there is a history of unanswered or unsatisfactorily answered complaints. It may be a good policy to stay free of “free” offers. If you have questions or concerns about an introductory offer that you have signed up for or that you are considering, contact the BBB at (800) 856-2417, or visit our website at bbbinc.org.