Consumers are becoming increasingly bargain-hungry shoppers - fueled by the rise of comparison websites, online auctions and discount sites. What's worse is that more information, products and services can now be found online completely free of charge. And while consumers are lapping it up (and rightly so) I've found myself on more than one occasion with my head in my hands wondering how my little business and I will ever be able to compete.
But, there are winners from this seemingly desperate state of affairs. Take Facebook for example. They have never once charged users for accessing the networking site and yet their net worth is over $50 billion. How is this possible? Well, I did a little research and found that the answer is actually simpler than you might think. As consumers have evolved to become more savvy, so have businesses. Some have built up a database of consumers by offering a free service and then charging other businesses to access them. Others have taken a tiered approach to pricing - offering greater levels of service to those who are prepared to pay for it.
So, here are some of the best examples of companies I've found that have not only survived, but thrived by targeting consumers that want something for nothing...
Use a 'freemium' model - like Spotify
Freemium - the very word that combines 'free' with 'premium', is exactly the service model that more and more companies are bringing to their customers. A simple but genius tiered-pricing structure that gives the basics for free, but charges for a more advanced service. Spotify, the online music platform, does this expertly. Anyone can access their library of millions of songs for free, but there are limitations. Customers using the site free of charge are subjected to listen to ads every few songs and cannot listen offline - fine if you're tuning in occasionally, but more than a little annoying if you want uninterrupted playback. Fortunately, they offer a premium option available at $9.99 per month for listeners that want unlimited ad-free music wherever they are. And with recent stats showing that Spotify now have more than 30million paying subscribers worldwide worldwide, I guess the model works.
Make it free for consumers (but charge the businesses) - like Glassdoor
The power of Glassdoor - a revolutionary recruitment and employer / employee networking site - lies in its influential audience. Over the years, Glassdoor has built up an impressive database of over 30 million users by enabling them to review companies, compare salaries and search for their dream job - free of charge. Now, what employer wouldn't want to have access to millions of job seekers that they could target based on location and demographics? I know I would. And that's how Glassdoor hit the jackpot by charging employers to not only promote their company, but also to post targeted job advertisements (at a far cheaper rate than the cost of hiring a traditional recruitment company).
Offer a cheaper alternative - like Uber
Operating in over 500 cities across the world and connecting over a billion riders with drivers, there's no denying that Uber has transformed the transport industry. For me, their success comes down to two important factors - convenience and cheap rates. By not only being in the right place at the right time but also offering a cheaper alternative to costly city taxi cabs Uber is the go-to service for many travellers and has earned them a net worth of $6 billion.
Let customers try before they buy - like Birchbox
The concept of using samples to market new beauty products is not a new one, but tailoring them to your skin and hair profile and receiving them direct to your door is. Birchbox, a service offering a monthly dose of skincare and make-up treats to their subscribers (without them having to step outside of the front door), is a great way of getting prospective customers to try before they buy. For $10 a month beauty addicts can get a box of 5 personalized samples (a fraction of the cost that it would be to purchase a full-size product) and if they like any of them, Birchbox's online store gives subscribers access to buy all of the products. What an ingenious way to connect brands with buyers - and make a profit in doing so!
Make life super convenient - like Blue ApronWith households working more hours than ever before - for many it feels like there just isn't enough time in the day. Going to the store after work to pick up groceries and then cooking them after a hard day at the office can be a hassle and an increasing number of people are turning to fast and convenient food. Step in Blue Apron. Delivering freshly prepared ingredients to homes all over America, Blue Apron not only makes cooking fun and healthy but also extremely convenient. It may not be the cheapest way to eat, but it sure is popular. Now delivering 5 million meals every month (up from 180,000 just a year and a half ago) it seems that Blue Apron has an amazing recipe for success on their hands.