Free Isn’t Cheap

I wasn’t surprised to read that Which? has concluded ‘free’ banking costs a fortune. The fact is, nothing in the commercial world is really free. If you buy one and get one ‘free’, it may be true that you pay the same if you only purchase one but the price allows for you buying two. The same applies to ‘free gifts’.
Businesses use ‘Free’ offers because it’s the most emotive attention-grabbing known to marketing but the reality is, as Mrs Thatcher once said, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’. Your Life Your Style recently followed the example of others including the great Amazon and started offering free shipping on most online purchases. Our courier hasn’t become a charity so we are still having to pay for shipping. In most cases, our customers are not paying more. The additional cost has been paid for by the increase in turnover this offer has generated. Nevertheless, if we were in Germany, we would probably have to say, ‘Shipping included in the price’ but that doesn’t sound anything like as exciting.
At least Your Life Your Style’s free shipping genuinely applies to everything over £20, unlike a packaging supplier I came across recently who offered ‘free shipping on all orders’ but made a ‘small order surcharge’ of £9.99 on all purchases under £100!
The use of the word ‘free’ can sometimes be disingenuous becasue everything has a cost to a business and has to be valued against the revenue it generates. It’s the same with a free gift offered if you subscribe to a magazine, or a donation to a good cause in order to enhance their brand. This is not sinister or underhand, but equally it is not altruistic.
Take Your Life Your Style. We offer things for free to attract people to my business websites in the hope that they will stay and buy something. So we provide free cocktail recipes and a free tourist guide to the Winchester on our shop website, and there are pages of free basic marketing advice on my consultancy website.
Of course, free gifts from businesses can become unsavoury. David Cameron is probably too young to remember Margaret Thatcher’s cautionary words, which may be why he didn’t realise the potential fallout from accepting an invitation to a ‘country supper’ from News International’s Rebekah Brooks. Neither should he have been surprised that businesses donating to the Conservative Party coffers might expect to be invited to Downing Street where they could lobby ministers over the canapés.
My mother was always rightly suspicious about anything free. She would be confused by today’s world in which the low delivery costs of the internet have led to lots of services being ‘free’. We get free searches from Google, free social networking from Facebook and free mailboxes from Yahoo. However, she might not be as surprised or outraged as some people have been to discover the companies in question are using the information they gain about us to target advertising in our direction. When I use Google’s free search, I’m like a fish caught by bait: Google’s customers are the people who buy the fish, in other words advertisers. As my mum wqould have said, ‘You get what you pay for.’

By Paul Lewis

After a short stint as a journalist, I have spent most of my working life in marketing and retailing. I love theatre and have been lucky enough to work in theatre marketing for many years. I provide small businesses and arts organisations with holistic marketing at an economic price through my company Seven Experience Ltd

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