Why Free Offers Aren’t Free

March 10, 2014 by
Free Survival Knife from SurvivalLife

If This Knife Is Really Free, Why Do I Need My Credit Card?

Earlier today I saw a link on SurvivalBlog.com to a review of a popular free card knife from Survival Life.

You've probably seen an ad for it before, but if you haven't, you can find the free offer for the knife here.

I thought the review on the knife itself appeared fair but found the points made on the marketing of it somewhat misguided.

In response, I'd like to share some "insider" insights for everyday preppers on the outside looking in to the world of emergency preparedness and survival product marketing.

First, two disclaimers. One, I do not own this particular card-style knife (though I ordered two knives today to review Survival Life's sales process for this article). Second, I have never as of today worked for either Survival Life or Ryan Deiss (the owner of the company).

That said, I have met Ryan Deiss in person. He is known in multiple industries as a phenomenal online marketer. I attended one of his marketing seminars as recently as last October. As to his personal background in prepping I'm not familiar with.

I do know a copywriter who once worked at Survival Life. She's a real prepper. And I believe at least some of those who work at Survival Life today are as well.

Background out of the way, let's examine why free offers like this survival knife really aren't free.

#1: There's ALWAYS a Catch to Free Offers

If someone you know personally offers you something free, it could be out of personal generosity. Or maybe they're just clearing out "clutter" they believe you could use.

But when something is offered free and advertised to the general public there is a catch. Always.

That doesn't mean the catch isn't worth it. Just don't be surprised to find one.

Typically, in offers like the one for the free card knife from Survival Life, the goal is to:

  1. Get permission to market to you (your "order" gives the company your email and/or mailing address, and a reason to reach out to you again)
  2. Use this permission to contact you again in an attempt to sell you something.

Duh. That's how capitalism works.

Reputable companies, and yes I count Survival Life among those, will always let you unsubscribe to any email list you sign up for as a result of taking advantage of their "free" offer.

Physical mailing lists may be a bit harder to scrub clean of your name. Some companies may send you junk mail for years. But understand this: it costs far more to mail something to you than email you, so if you refuse to buy anything else most companies will eventually stop mailing to you as often.

Knowing there's going to be a catch, the real question you should ask yourself before accepting any free offer is whether you mind entering the company's sales funnel. (A sales funnel is basically a series of progressive offers and other steps to improve your value as a customer to the company's bottom line.)

In practical terms, this means you're offering the company permission to send you emails and/or postal mail in exchange for whatever free report or other item you accept. Unless you're extremely averse to email or junk mail, I'd think that's a minor issue considering you can always unsubscribe to email and toss junk mail in the circular file.

If privacy is your concern, simply create a separate email account for accepting these kinds of offers and use a P.O. Box or mailing service for receiving physical shipments. You probably already have these if privacy really is a concern.

Why Is There a Hard Sell on a Free Offer?

A related complaint by the author of the knife review was Survival Life's "high pressure sales tactics."

After navigating their free offer - and multiple additional upsells (add-on purchase sales pages) - I'd have to agree the "high pressure" part is a bit more than typical. Not because they had upsells, but due to the format.

The high pressure here arrives in the form of a video sales letter that appears after you click the submit order button for your free knife. The video warns you not to close the page and informs you that your order is not complete. There's no visible way to exit the video early short of closing the tab, so most buyers may reasonably anticipate closing the tab will interrupt their order for the free knife.

I closed the tab anyhow. Sure enough, my bank already showed the $2.95 shipping charge for the knife so the order really did go through. I just didn't complete their upsell sales funnel the first time through. As you can imagine, getting my name on their list is more important to the company at this point.

Even as a copywriter I can tell you I'm not a fan of the tactic. Yet I'll tell you what matters for the company: the bottom line. I guarantee you a company like Survival Life is testing and measuring whether this form of upsell process ends up making them more or less money in the long run and will adjust their sales tactics accordingly.

Since I closed the tab on the upsell video prematurely the first time, I bought a second "free" knife. On my second pass (using a separate credit card & email - their site complained when I attempted to use the same info twice), I accepted the first couple of upsells to see where it would take me.

Long story short, you can literally spend an hour of your day going through their upsell sales funnel after accepting their "free knife" offer if you choose to review and accept everything they offer. Of course, you are under no obligation to do so.

Bottom line: Enter any free offer deal expecting the company plans to sell something to you and you'll rarely be surprised by this "catch."

#2: If It's Really Free, Why Charge Shipping & Handling?

Good marketers understand there is a world of difference between someone who gives an email for something free and someone who is willing to pay something - even as little as $1 - to get it.

Marketing Fact: Move someone from asking for something free to actually participating in the buying process, even if it's labeled "shipping and handling" on a "free" item, and you'll now have a much higher quality name on your list to market other products to. That person has just crossed the steep divide from "lead" into the vaunted category of "buyer." These individuals are proven far more likely to buy something else in the future provided their initial expectations are met or exceeded.

Now, the review on the card knife mentioned you can buy these things for under a buck each if you order in quantity. As I'm sure Survival Life did. So the reviewer questioned, even though he was satisfied with the knife quality at the price (his $5 S&H), why was he charged so much on a free item that would cost much less than $5 to mail?

Good question.

As you may have suspected, companies are generally in business for the purpose of making money. Marketers often test various shipping & handling price points on "free" offers for multiple reasons. In fact, the reviewer said Survival Life charged him $5.00 per knife for S&H (probably $4.95). I only paid $2.95, showing Survival Life also tests different shipping & handling price points.

However, the factors that drive a marketer to charge more or less for S&H on "free" offers may be a little more complex than you initially think. Here are a few of them:

  • Lower prices on front-end offers (offers designed to get new customers - like the card knife) usually result in more new customers on their list to market to
  • Higher prices on front-end offers usually result in fewer new customers, but higher quality names on their list to market to
  • Higher prices on front-end offers not only cover the full cost of S&H, it usually covers the cost of the item itself (regardless of the fact it's called "free") and may even earn a profit

"But they still said it was free."

I hear you.

I'll leave it to you to decide whether it's fair to call an item free when the company charges enough to cover the entire cost of the item plus shipping. But a true apples-to-apples comparison should compare the cost of buying one identical or comparable knife to the free offer price. Not 200 knives.

#3: But So-and-So Said It's a Scam

Of course they did. I challenge you to look up virtually ANY well known marketer or company and add "scam," "fraud," or in the case of natural health marketers, "quack" to the name in your Google search. You'll likely get pages of search results full of entries.

Does this mean it really is a scam or fraud? Maybe.

You see, some disgruntled customers will do everything in their power to tarnish the name of a company. Even if unwarranted.

And some websites exist primarily for the sake of letting disgruntled customers "call out" these companies then leave it up to the reviewers and readers to sort fact from fiction and determine which are legitimate complaints or not. This includes some of the websites linked to from the original review of Survival Life's free knife we're talking about here.

Yes, be on guard against scams. As SurvivalBlog.com's editor said, prepping is big business so do your homework before dealing with companies offering survival products.

However, a better resource to check than some "scambook" or similar site would be an impartial arbitrator like the Better Business Bureau. Or a recommendation from a trusted friend.

Good luck out there! And feel free to share your favorite "free" offer in the comments below if you'd personally recommend it to a fellow prepper.