Sunday, 30 November 2008

Software Trial Periods: How long before customers buy?

With the November releases of SliQ Invoicing and Quoting (Standard and MC), I made a change to the format of the product and unlock codes. The idea behind this was to simplify the process for users, making it easier to check if a product code was correct. The new format also makes it easier to generate an unlock code. The new unlock code format is also longer - meaning that people will be less likely to try and type the code in by hand. This should reduce the chances of the unlock code being mistakenly typed. On the advice of a fellow software vendor, I now use the customer’s identity - land and email addresses in the code making it easier to match codes to customers in the future.

I've always wondered how long people use my software before purchasing. People have up to 30 days free use before they need to buy but until now I've had no way of gauging how long people try before buying on average. With the change in the code format, I've been able to tell whether someone download the software before or after the change. Previously, I’d read posts from other shareware authors or marketing people advising that people tend to buy more or less immediately - within hours - if they are going to buy. The longer people leave between trying and buying, the less chance of a purchase. Although not a scientific test, in the three or so weeks since the last release, 90% of purchasers still use the old format code. I'm taking this to mean that, at least with my products, most people take pretty much full advantage of the 30 day trial period.

Of course, I could get worried by purchasers still registering with the old product codes. With the credit crunch I could assume that I’m not getting any new customers and I’m just exhausting the supply of people who downloaded a trial a month ago. However Google Analytics is actually showing an increase in traffic over the past 3 weeks and my download bandwidth has increased too. This means I'm probably getting proportionately more new trial users. The sales haven't dropped off either, which I was kind of expecting for business-related software in the run-up to Christmas.

If all this means that most people take advantage of the trial period then I’m glad. I want people to use the full trial period to make sure they are happy to purchase. Hopefully it reduces the support overhead in the long-term since those people who do buy will be more happy with the features the software provides.

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