The Challenge of Retaining Customers Acquired with Free Trials
Journal of Marketing Research, Forthcoming
57 Pages Posted: 16 May 2012 Last revised: 21 Oct 2014
Date Written: October 17, 2014
Many service firms acquire customers by offering free-trial promotions. A crucial challenge is to retain customers acquired with these free trials. To address this challenge, firms need to understand how free-trial customers differ from regular customers in terms of their decision making to retain the service. This article conceptualizes how a customer’s retention decision is driven by marketing communication and usage behavior, and develops hypotheses about the impact of free-trial acquisition on this process. To test the hypotheses, the authors model a customer’s retention and usage decisions, distinguishing between usage of a flat-rate service and usage of a pay-per-use service. The model allows for unobserved heterogeneity and corrects for selection effects and endogeneity. Based on household panel data from a digital TV service, the authors find systematic behavioral differences which make the average customer lifetime value (CLV) of free-trial customers 59% lower than that of regular customers. However, free-trial customers are more responsive to marketing communication and usage rates, which offers opportunities to target marketing efforts and enhance retention rates, CLV, and customer equity.
Keywords: Free Trials, Customer Retention, Usage Behavior, Customer Lifetime Value, Customer Equity, Acquisition Mode, Selection Effects, Endogeneity, Econometrics
JEL Classification: M30, M31, M37
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation