A few weeks ago I was going to buy a digitizer tablet for my PC. Then I noticed in the vendor’s terms and conditions that they wouldn’t accept a return once I had opened the packaging. But I couldn’t know if the tablet works until I open the packaging. Duh. I didn’t buy it. Similarly I look for a sensible money-back guarantee whenever I buy software. I don’t remember ever invoking such a guarantee for software, but it is nice to know that I could if I wanted to. Also, I see the lack of such a guarantee as a warning signal that the vendor isn’t confident about the quality of their product.
I offer a 14-day money back guarantee on my own Perfect Table Plan software. The only provisos are:
- They have to tell me what they didn’t like about my software. This is very useful feedback for me.
- They have to email me that they have uninstalled the software and won’t use it again. I have no way of checking this, but I want them to be clear in their own mind that they are a liar and a cheat if they carry on using it (if you have read Ariely’s excellent ‘Predictably irrational’ you will know that many people are prepared to be a little dishonest, but few will lie and cheat outright).
- They have to return the CD, if they purchased one.
- The guarantee is only valid for 14 days.
But I am fairly relaxed about about all of these. If it is clear that someone thinks they haven’t got their money’s worth out of my software, I will pretty much always give them their money back.
Note that is isn’t a ‘no questions asked’ money back guarantee. I haven’t been quite brave enough to try that yet and really want feedback on why they didn’t like my software. Also the 14 day guarantee is shorter than most. The reason is that a lot of people buy my software for a single use (e.g. their wedding reception) and I don’t want to make it too easy for them to use the software and claim a refund after they have finished with it. However I have heard vendors say that their refund rate actually dropped when they extended the length of their money back guarantee (due to increased procrastination, perhaps). I may test switching to a ‘no questions asked’ and/or longer guarantee period at some point.
The advantages of a money back guarantee to the vendor are:
- More sales. If they customer is confident they can get their money back they are more likely to buy. I don’t have any numbers to back this up, as I have always had a money back guarantee. But I know I am considerably more likely to buy if there is a money back guarantee. Aren’t you?
- Less chargebacks. If a customer buys with a credit card they can get their money back anyway. They just have to ring their credit card company and do a chargeback. Your payment processor will then take the payment back and, to add insult to injury, slap a chargeback fee on top. Too many chargebacks and they might even close your account. Better to refund and avoid the chargeback fee.
- Less bad vibes. No matter how great your software is, some people aren’t going to like it. Maybe your software isn’t a good fit for what they want to do. Maybe they are just having a bad day. Better to give them their money back than to have them bad mouth your product on every forum they can find.
- Less bad customers. Some customers (thankfully very few, in my experience) cost more in time and mental energy than their licence fee is worth. It is better for you to cheerfully refund them and focus your efforts on more financially and psychologically rewarding customers.
- Staying legal. You may be legally obliged to give a refund in some circumstances.
- Good karma. If you aren’t happy, I really don’t want your money.
Generally it costs you nothing to refund a software purchase, apart from a few seconds of your time (depending on your payment processor, some may not refund the processing fee). The only disadvantage of a money back guarantee is that it makes it easier for a customer to cheat you. A lot of vendors worry about this, but in my experience (and of others I have spoken to) this isn’t much of an issue in reality. My refund rate has been consistently around 0.5% (I am not including cases where I refunded because people bought the wrong type of licence, bought 2 licences instead of one etc.). I would be very surprised if dropping my prominent money back guarantee didn’t also drop my sales by a lot more than 0.5%. So, even if all the refunds are fraudulent (which I very much doubt) I am confident that the refund policy increases my profits overall. Sufficiently confident that I don’t intend to run an A/B test any time soon.
Interestingly, my refund rate is 10 times lower amongst customers who have purchased a CD. This could be because these customers are less price sensitive and so don’t see the refund as worth their precious time. Or it could be because of the extra hassle of having to send the CD back (I know a wily B2B vendor who includes a CD with every purchase for exactly this reason). Probably it is a combination of both.
Some vendors think that they don’t need a refund policy if they have a free trial. I don’t agree. When I buy software I want a free trial AND a money back guarantee in case I only discover a problem after purchasing. Also I know (from a survey) that some 25% of my customers don’t even try the free trial of my software before they buy. I expect I would lose a lot of these sales without a money back guarantee.
I think the case for a money back guarantee is even stronger for B2B software. Customers buying B2B software typically aren’t spending their own money, so they are probably less likely to ask for a refund. Especially as this would mean admitting to their boss and peers that they made a mistake buying your software in the first place. Certainly I have a lower refund rate to businesses than to consumers.
From a business point of view, I think the only case where you can justify a no refund policy is when you have a high cost of sale, e.g. enterprise software that requires a lot of configuration. In that case you could include a non-refundable set-up fee that covers your costs, but still have a money back guarantee on the remainder of the purchase.
No doubt refund rates vary according to product type, price range, customer demographics, geographic market and a range of other factors. But , reading forums and talking to other vendors, the typical refund rate seems to be in the range 0.1% to 1%. If your rate is much above 1%, perhaps there is a problem with your product you need to address? If your rate is much less than 0.1%, perhaps you aren’t marketing your product aggressively enough?
In the early days I found it hard not to see refund requests as an insult to my product. But now it really doesn’t bother me and I cheerfully make the refund. I just add the key to a ‘blacklist’ in the software so it won’t work in any future releases. I don’t attempt to disable it in the current release. I don’t see implementing a ‘phone home’ strategy to make this work as being a profitable use of my time.
In summary, by not giving a money back guarantee you might avoid a small number of customers cheating you. But I think you are very likely to be losing a lot more in chargebacks, missed sales, ill will and missed feedback than you save in fraudulent refunds. Try it. You can always revert back in the unlikely event that your refunds go up significantly more than your sales. And if you have a money back guarantee you should shout about it on your website. Having a money back guarantee and not advertising it prominently seems like the worst of all worlds to me.