Try Before You Buy

Your constantly-updated definition of Try Before You Buy and collection of topical content and literature

What is Try Before You Buy?

Try before you buy is a principle of conversion-centered design that brands use to offer free content (e.g., apps) for limited-time or limited-feature use. It is a measurable strategy to foster brand loyalty. When users sample an item fully or partly, they can see if they should invest their money or information in it.

“I don’t care how much money you have, free stuff is always a good thing.”

— Queen Latifah, Popstar

Try before you buy is common for digital services, but webshops like Amazon use it for physical products as well. See how you might apply it in your own design projects.

Let Users “Test-Drive” Choice Features with Try Before You Buy

Free limited-time or limited-feature use of services or products is a powerful, time-tested user-conversion strategy. A brand that lets users sample what it has to offer can strengthen its credibility and distinguish itself better than one that doesn’t. When you use try before you buy, you should make sure you:

  1. Immediately let users explore an item at their leisure—though with a limited feature setor enjoy the full version for a trial period.
  2. Provide value to users before you prompt them with a call to action.
  3. Leverage behavioral economics to make users feel greater ownership of an item, which they’ll then be less likely to give up.

The digital forms of try before you buy vary (e.g., music snippets, game demos). However, they all involve the same premise—the power of free. You give users something so they can decide if it’s worthwhile to invest in the privilege of full access or ownership. Try before you buy doesn’t necessarily mean you must entice users to spend money. You can also apply it to encourage them to register personal information. For example, anyone can watch uploaded videos on YouTube anonymously. It’s only when users want to interact more intimately (e.g., comment) that YouTube prompts them to invest—in this case, register. The success of this approach comes from:

  1. Immediate payoff (i.e., watch anything now).
  2. Minimal registration effort afterwards (i.e., no upfront barriers, which deter over 85% of users who would otherwise have become customers).

Netflix prompts users to create an account before the free trial.

How to Entice Users with Try Before You Buy

Users typically dislike registration prompts. They know they may get annoying marketing pitches if they give their email addresses. Some register with false details. It’s perfectly natural for them to be suspicious that brands which are hungry for their information will also be hungry for their money. A good way for you to overcome their suspicions is to treat them as guests—offer generous trial periods and generous access to desirable content. Consider which of the following actions may be suitable for your design project:

  1. Offer guarantees and clear notifications (e.g., about cookies) to reinforce trust and brand loyalty.
  2. Include opt-in/opt-out checkboxes insightfully, so users stay in full control and any persuasion you give them to act is gentlenever trick them.
  3. Ensure users can ignore registration and continue as guests (with the free version) or tell them how many uses they have left before they have to register (with the full version).
  4. Approach users who have sampled but are unresponsive and offer them incentives/deals.
  5. Offer high-resolution previews (e.g., e-book samples).
  6. Let users create drafts using their own content (e.g., writing samples).
  7. Let guest users check out, but tell them about account-holder benefits for their next purchase.
  8. Apply freemium (gaming) features such as paid upgrades cautiously.

Above all, when you offer users free trials of premium items, you should make these last long enough for them to appreciate all the benefits without interruption. For free versions, decide on appropriate levels of functionality. Remember, any free version must still be good enough to represent the brand. Users shouldn’t be dissatisfied with performance. They should want to have an even better premium version. The value you provide users when you give them free samples should drive conversion because it’s a huge part of how they judge what your brand is worth.

Learn More about Try Before You Buy

You can learn more about try before you buy in our course on the psychology of e-commerce: https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/psychology-of-e-commerce-how-to-sell-online

See what UX Planet says about first impressions and try before you buy: https://uxplanet.org/mobile-app-ux-design-making-a-great-first-impression-bed2805b967d

This blog examines the snowballing impact of try before you buy: https://www.hughesandco.ca/blog/leveraging-the-trend-of-try-before-you-buy

Here’s a thought-provoking piece that explores try before you buy and AR: https://blog.prototypr.io/is-augmented-reality-the-future-of-ux-34d20d7d22d7

Literature on Try Before You Buy

Here’s the entire UX literature on Try Before You Buy by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

All Literature