Sales Resistance: Free and Paid Apps

Any time you put an additional step in the sales process, you gain an opportunity to lose a customer. Such is the case with Free and Paid apps. It’s a common freemium pattern in the Google Android Market and Apple App Store.

You’re familiar with the pattern – there’s a Free version of the app that’s restricted and then there’s a Paid version that has all of the features. As a developer, the problem is that you have to maintain two versions of the same app. You have two app store listings. You have to track two sets of stats. It’s difficult if not impossible to track Free to Paid conversions. You can’t tell if your marketing tool (the Free version) is working.

As a customer, you may like the Free version, but find it confusing how to upgrade to the Paid version. Here’s  the typical scenario for the Android Market:

  1. George downloads the Free version of your app.
  2. George uses it for a while and likes it.
  3. You’ve put a “Buy Full/Paid” button somewhere in your app. George clicks it.
  4. George is taken to the Market app and is presented with the single-line app listing. This shows the price and rating. He doesn’t care – he knows what he wants already. He’s made his own rating in his mind. This is the first chance for George to leave the sales process.
  5. George clicks on the app. He sees the description of the app, screenshots, etc. He doesn’t care – he already knows what the app is all about. Second chance for George to leave.
  6. George clicks the “Buy” button.
  7. A list of security permissions is presented. George doesn’t care – he already agreed to them with the Free version. Chance 3 to leave.
  8. George accepts the permissions by clicking “Ok”.
  9. George is taken to Google Checkout. If George doesn’t have a credit card setup already, he must do so now. It’s a fairly cumbursome process. Chance 4 and 5 for George to leave.
  10. George clicks “Buy Now”.
  11. The download starts. George is returned to the app description with a button that says “Cancel Download”. Why? He just purchased it. Chance 6 for George to cancel.
  12. After the download is done, the buttons change to “Open” and “Uninstall”.  Uninstalling at this point grants an automatic refund. Chance 7 for George to leave.
  13. If George clicks “Open”, he’s taken to the Paid version. Good. That’s what we wanted.
  14. But wait…there’s more! George now has to hunt down the Free version of your app and uninstall it. He doesn’t need it anymore. Some users get confused at this point and end up uninstalling/refunding the Paid version on accident.

Whew! George should get a medal or something! This could be much simpler. You create one version of your app. It starts out in restricted/Free mode, but it’s unlockable. Then the scenario could be:

  1. George makes one free download.
  2. George likes it. He clicks “Buy Full”.
  3. George is allowed to pay via carrier billing (simplest) or checkout with any online payment provider he might have.
  4. Android Market allows your app to detect whether it has been unlocked, possibly via an enhancement to the licensing service.
  5. George is returned back to the same app which is now fully featured.

This could also happen incrementally, allowing George to unlock multiple features as he wants them. How ’bout it Google? In-app payments? Simplified payment process? Support for payment methods you already have?

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