When something is free online

When something is free online

What are consumer expectations when something is free?
Realistically, consumers subconsciously assume that free means free, and although that might be the initial intention, it is rarely the case.

What exactly does free mean?
Realistically, consumers subconsciously assume that free means free, and although that might be the initial intention, it is rarely really the case.

Why do companies offer free stuff?
Companies or individuals can promote a free offer or service for several reasons. From the brand to advertising revenue, companies often use "free" to attract attention or interest. As a consumer, it is important to realize what "free" could really mean.

Reasons why things are free:


Companies can offer something in exchange for a link to their website. As the web becomes increasingly competitive, links can affect more than just search engine placement, and providing a product, service or information for free in exchange for a link can be a good business decision.

Advertising revenue

Some companies offer a product or service for free and generate money from advertising. Maybe they sell advertising on your website. A free product attracts web traffic to increase the number of visitors who see the ad. The more visitors a site attracts, generally the more revenue is generated from the advertising space. Maybe a software application is free, but it has integrated ads. When the ads are clicked, the software developer earns a percentage of the revenue paid for publishing the ad.

Goodwill Branding / Public Relations

On occasion, companies will provide a product, service or information for free. If the offer is extremely magnanimous or socially sensitive, they will often receive significant exposure in the press, generating free advertising for their brand. Pepsi Cola sponsors a series of sporting events and generates huge amounts of brand loyalty and positive public relations with its target audience.

Contact information

Sometimes, companies or individuals will provide something for free in exchange for contact information. Electronic books are often provided free of charge if you provide an email address. Contact information can be sold later or used to market related products. It is important to check the privacy policies of the website to determine how personal information can be used.


Companies usually offer a lightweight version to call attention to paid products or services. This often allows potential customers to see the potential of a product or service. The hope is that providing something for free will generate brand loyalty and interest in options or services based on rates.

The problem with free

If a company or individual really provides something for free, there is a cost involved. If time, resources or services are consumed to provide the free item or service, there is an expense involved. If the cost is at any time greater than the benefit or perceived benefit of offering the free item or service, it is likely that the company or the individual will review the options to better balance the cost-benefit ratio.

Which can:

Suspend the stand

Companies or people offering a free product can continue to provide it free of charge, but suspend support. If the article is similar to software, the expense has already occurred. By providing the item without technical support or customer service, you can reduce your personnel costs. The only continuous expense to provide the item for free would be the continuous costs of accommodation, which are generally relatively small. If the item is critical to the operations of a business or individual, the value of the item will be lost if technical support or customer service is no longer available.


Companies can simply stop offering the free item or service without prior notice.


Individuals or companies can start requesting donations, compensation, volunteers or a benefit mentioned above to continue providing the item or service for free.

Cut corners

Often, free items are of reduced quality or lower. Businesses or cost-conscious people often try to minimize the expense associated with free items and will use less expensive materials for free items.

There is a value for "free", just make sure you know what it is. The next time something is offered for free, evaluate the quid pro quo and determine what you are giving in return, because too little is really free.