Misleading "Free" Trials and Subscription Traps for Consumers in the EU

Published in: EU Law and Publications (September 2017). doi: 10.2818/3605

Posted on RAND.org on December 05, 2017

by Katherine Grace Carman, Charlene Rohr, Jahedi Salar, Sonia Sousa

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Prior consumer surveys carried out at EU level highlight that 95% of EU28 online consumers purchased goods and services at least once during the previous year. However, consumers are not very aware of their rights when making online purchases. One marketing tool that is used to entice online consumers is the use of free trials. They suggest that the product can be ordered for free, or that consumers can subscribe to a service without any costs (for a period of time). Some free trials involve problematic commercial practices. These misleading trials trap the consumer into subscriptions to purchase the tested product or services. This study sheds light on the experiences and problems faced by consumers when engaging in an online free trial in the EU. The study compiles the views of 24,500 consumers, 66% of whom had ordered a free trial online in the previous year alongside the experience and opinions of stakeholders' (i.e. European Consumer Centres and the Consumer Protection Cooperation network), a mystery shopping exercise to explore the process and consequence of ordering a free trial as well as a behavioural experiment to understand why consumers can fall victim to misleading free trials.

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