The Ins and Outs of FREE Trial Offers

April 06, 2009

A very prevalent practice seen in the marketplace today is using the “FREE Trial” method to sell products. This allows a potential customer to preview a product at no charge with the idea that the product will sell itself and the participant will end up purchasing the product. There are plenty of offers that have no strings attached; however, your Better Business Bureau is here to educate you about the strings that are attached in many cases.

Whether you order a product online or by phone, make sure you have all of the information about potential charges up front. If the product is being mailed to you, make sure you know whether or not you are responsible for the shipping charge, (that is usually never free) and make sure you know how much that will be. Also, a “free trial” indicates that you are trying a product for a period of time, usually 10 or 14 days. Make sure you know what your responsibilities are when the trial period is over. If you will be charged for the product at the end of the trial period, know how much that will cost because it is usually an automatic withdrawal from your debit or credit card. To avoid this charge, you are usually required to send the product back to the company. Make sure you know ahead of time exactly when this needs to be sent back by, in order to avoid the charge. Let it be very clear to you when the free trial starts—is it X amount of days from the time you order the product or from the time you receive the product?

It is also very important to be aware of how continuity or auto-ship programs work. These kinds of programs are highly associated with free trial offers. This happens when you do not send the product back and you are billed for it. Many consumers think that’s the end of it: they’ve paid for the product and it’s theirs to keep. What must be clear is that most times when participating in a free trial offer, you have agreed to allow the company to continue to send you-and charge you directly from your credit or debit card-for more products on a consistent basis until you contact them and cancel the plan.


ü Always check the company out with your BBB first!

ü Be clear as to when your free trial starts and ends.

ü Know the company’s policies for sending items back: how to properly send it and if they charge for damaged packaging.

ü Know exactly what you will be charged if you decide to keep the product.

ü Find out if your acceptance of the product at the end of the free trial automatically puts you on a continuity plan.