In some ways, gay.com’s approach to the changes it recently made are brilliant.
Before you change the whole design of your site, announce that a “new gay.com” is “coming soon” and offer annual premium memberships for half the normal price, but don’t tell anybody that “soon” is actually two months from now.
Also don’t tell anybody that key features such as chat rooms are going away so that people will think the site will actually be enhanced.
This encourages people who might otherwise not buy premium memberships to pay for gay.com, and it encourages existing premium members to renew their memberships.
Customers who are unhappy with the new site will probably continue using it for a while since they cannot get their money back and since nobody likes not using something that cost them money.
Tricking people into staying with the site is a great way of dealing with people who might otherwise leave entirely because they are unhappy with the changes.
Of course, a number of people probably will forget to cancel their premium memberships and will automatically be rebilled at the end of their year. Those people who normally would not buy memberships but who bought them discounted are now eligible to be rebilled automatically, thus increasing gay.com’s income without having to actually do anything such as marketing and implementing new features.
The best way to get people to start using your service is to already have a good active user base, and keeping people around for a while longer in these sneaky ways helps buffer the loss of existing members until new members come on board.
What will happen when all these premium memberships start expiring in a year is anybody’s guess, but hey… everything is good for now!
I concede that this type of user lock-in is not on the same scale as things such as address book software and communications providers where switching to alternatives can really be a major hassle, but any type of lock-in is going to make smarter customers think twice about giving you their money.