Selling Online Subscriptions: Should I Offer a Free Trial?

November 18, 2022
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Subscription-based services are expected to grow by over $750 billion in the next four years, making this a massive opportunity for businesses of all sizes. As you set up your subscription service or membership, you may ask yourself: Is a free trial worth it to you as a content creator, online course provider, or small business owner?

What Is A Free Trial?

As the name suggests, a free trial is complimentary access to your products or services. This access allows potential customers to experience your offerings before committing to payment. Free trials are extended as a promotional gesture in the hopes customers will enjoy and pay for your subscription once the trial period has ended. They are also an easy way to build customer trust and help you close sales.  

Will A Free Trial Work For My Business?

For subscription-based businesses, free trials cast the broadest possible net for customers. This lasso approach may vary depending on your product, but your business will likely see a return on the investment a free trial represents.   For online creators, free trials are most applicable to subscription services, software services, and online course membership.  

Subscription Services

Whether your subscription includes digital products, physical products, online content, or streaming courses—a free trial can help boost your bottom line and create a reliable monthly income. Many creators incentivize subscriptions by offering customers a discounted rate to access all their courses or content. You might also consider including exclusive insights and perks for subscribers.  

Software Services

When developers create new software, they can sell their product for a lump sum or earn income over time by running a SaaS (software as a service) business. The latter is favored by creators who believe their product will make more money in the long run. After all, software subscriptions allow easy, passive, and ongoing income.   Free trials pay off consistently for SaaS subscription businesses. A recent study from the University of Washington found that 14.8% of free trial customers became paying customers. The study also showed that a 7-day free trial brought maximum customer retention (6.4%) and revenue returns (7.91%) for SaaS products. A free trial offers a simple start if you want an easy way to grow your software business.  

Online Course Memberships

The rise of online courses, shareable content, and streaming services have paved the way for subscription-based memberships. Free trials offer an easy way to boost your member community and watch your earnings rise.  While available data is heavily skewed toward the most recognizable subscription-based streaming services (e.g., Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.), that data is undeniably in favor of the benefits found in free trials. For example, a 2018 study found that 65% of Netflix free trial customers convert into paying customers. In a post-pandemic world that’s much more home-based now than it was in 2018, a free trial for your content subscription isn’t just advisable—it’s smart business sense.  In this, as in so many other ways, SamCart has you covered. Click here for our four-step guide to creating a recurring subscription service with a free trial.

Alternatives to a Free Trial Promotion

Perhaps you’re worried about customers canceling their trials before the billing date arrives, or your customers might take advantage of a free trial by signing up multiple times using different information without ever paying for your service. A free trial is not the only way to engage with new customers.  

Pay What You Want Pricing

Rather than giving your products or services away for free, you can offer PWYW (Pay What You Want) pricing. This structure lets customers choose their own price—so you can still get paid while giving customers a taste of your products.

Paid Trials (or Limited Subscriptions)

Now that you’re an expert on free trials, it’s time to consider its reverse: the paid trial. With a paid trial, customers pay a higher upfront price until they meet your chosen threshold to unlock lower prices. This option could mean a higher price for a one-time order vs. a lower per-unit cost for a subscription or a feature.  


You may also offer “freemiums," where customers with free accounts can access a portion of your product or service features. Once users are hooked on your business, they are likely to pay to unlock your full features. Canva is probably the most widely used example of “freemium,” with effects for resizing images or particular layouts, graphics, and fonts that are only available to paying customers. (Aurelius Tjin is our resident Canva master; see his SamCart Tuesday Takeover from October 2022 to learn more).  Digital product sellers can offer “freemiums” by giving away a portion of their digital downloads for free. This method is compatible with various how-to guides, online courses, and other digital products. Click here for a complete list of ideas!

See the Difference a Free Trial can Make With SamCart

SamCart’s easy-to-use e-commerce platform makes it easy to customize free trials, freemiums, paid trials, and payment tiers for your business. So whether you’re selling a subscription, online course, physical product, or SaaS, you can quickly create a trial model. Entice new customers and convert them into revenue for your business. You can get started with a free SamCart trial today!

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