Free no more - investigating customer reactions to unexpected free-to-fee switches
Cziehso, G. P., Schäfers, T., Kukar-Kinney, M.
Many companies struggle with the consequences of introducing prices for previously free services, known as free-to-fee switches. We compare an unexpected forced free-to-fee switch, in which continued usage is only possible if the fee is paid, to a freemium switch, which entails the option to use a service with reduced features for free. Integrating price fairness theory and the concept of cannibalization, three experimental studies reveal detrimental effects of free-to-fee switches on fairness perceptions, attitude toward the company, and purchase intentions, which may partly be attenuated by a freemium switch. Furthermore, we examine different levels of feature reduction as a way for improving the effectiveness of free-to-fee switches. Overall, the findings question the common practice of unexpectedly introducing freemium business models, contribute to a better understanding of customer reactions to free-to-fee switches, and provide recommendations for companies intending to introduce a price for free services.