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How Great Brands Rethink Their Expiration Dates

There is a very good reason that milk has an expiration date. No one wants to have crusty lumpy milk in their fridge. A lot of food in general is required by law to have these expiration dates. It is the most familiar of all deadlines that all of us experience in some way almost every day. Not surprisingly, this idea of expiration dates is baked into all kinds of other industries as well … especially those that may not need it.

Most software products, for example, offer a limited time free trial. Most retail stores offer the ability to return an item within 30 days. Your brand probably has some kind of equivalent expiration-based policy to let your customers get a taste of what you offer before they decide to buy. But do you really need that?

Here are a few examples of products and services today that are already rethinking this model – and why you might want to as well:

  1. Use levels instead of time. Instead of limiting how long you can use them, many phone apps today are offered in a “lite” version that is free forever. If you want more challenging levels for games or other features for utility apps, you can pay extra. Otherwise, just use the free version as long as you want. What they have realized is by offering unlimited usage of a “lite” version, people may ultimately decide to buy long after the traditional 30 day trial period is over.
  2. Extend the free trial. Every time I sign up for a new paid service, I routinely get an email after 30 days telling me that my trial is over. Web site building tool Squarespace recently sent me that email as well, but in it was an invitation to keep my free trial going for another week. That simple option at the end of my trial period made it far more likely that I would return to try the site and evaluate again whether I wanted to become a paying customer.
  3. Kill the expiration dates. Retail return periods are among the most common things that consumers experience, but there are a small number of retailers who have decided to change this model. Outdoor gear retailer REI, for example, lets consumers become members of the store, and offers unlimited return periods for the products they sell. The result is vastly higher loyalty from customers, and even filters through to generous policies for employees to use gear for free as well.


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Rohit is the author of 10 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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