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.’

The Naked Truth About Advertising, Underwear and Valentines Day

Underwear is a popular Valentines Day gift but what message does it give?

This time of year our shop Your Life Your Style is full of hearts. Glass coasters with hearts fused into them, heart shaped cushions, handmade cards with stuck on hearts… other shops have enough flowers, chocolates and romantic CDs to fill Westminster Abbey. All intended to show we love someone this coming Monday.

Underwear seems a popular choice as a Valentines Day gift but I’m not certain it’s a good idea. I’ve been wondering how men who receive Marks & Spencer’s new BodyMax underwear will feel. To remind you, this is a new range intended to make a man’s abs more flat, his bum more firm, and his maleness… just plain more. All those years your wife or girlfriend has been saying size doesn’t matter and suddenly she buys you ‘frontal enhancement’ underpants.

It’s worse still if you buy them for yourself. The trouble with all these body changing clothes, for men or women, is that, once you’ve attracted your potential mate with a bulging crotch or uplifted padded boobs, there comes an inevitable moment of truth. Your pants go down and the mountain brings forth a mouse. The bra comes off and your man’s face drops along with a couple of other things. I suppose we hope that by then our partner will be so overcome by passion, they’ll forgive the deception. Or maybe we just make rely on everything looking better by candlelight.

In business we have no such luxury. The law doesn’t allow us to pretend our product or service is one thing and then hope once the customer has bought it, they’ll just accept the disappointing reality. Nor would it be good business sense. Contrary to a widespread public perception, advertising is not about lying. The industry regulator the Advertising Standards Authority even says in its core statement that advertisements in print, TV and radio must be ‘honest, decent and legal’. It’s about to get tougher for businesses because from 1st March the ASA is taking on complaints about websites.

Shops shouldn’t need legislation to make us honest because truth is our biggest marketing tool. I’ve always found that if you are honest about your products, describing them accurately, admitting their limitations, even sending customers elsewhere if that is their best bet, and apologising when you get something wrong, your customers will trust you and come back to you again and again.

These days, all good websites allow customers to comment on products and service from the mighty Amazon to our own little (and only slightly enhanced) Your Life Your Style. We don’t always like what is said but it shows customers we have nothing to hide and it is an additional spur to be clear and accurate about what we promise.

Of course you can’t satisfy everybody and we’re all entitled to an opinion. One customer gave a poor review to our ‘rabbit’ draught excluder. There was nothing wrong with its quality but she didn’t like his slightly mad expression! Still, at least we didn’t pretend it was a bigger size.

This article also appeared on the Daily Echo website