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Save money on free trials, without getting burnt

Dec 17 2017 06:01
Angelique Ruzicka

Johannesburg - With 2018 fast approaching, you may want to try out something new.

To entice customers to sign up for a service or buy a product they’re not familiar with, many companies offer free trials. Trials are prevalent in the services and cosmetics industry where customers are offered free access to test products or given vouchers for a limited period. For example, most gyms give consumers a week’s or a month’s trial period, after which you can decide if you want to enter into a contract.

These are meant to convince you into agreeing that the product or service is one that you can’t live without. They’re completely legal, but some salespeople may sign you up for more than you bargained for.

“While trials are generally an excellent way to allow the customer to first experience the product or service before making a purchasing decision, we do find that in some industries salespeople can use them to lure or mislead customers to enter into long-term contracts while thinking that they are just signing up for a trial period.

“We have seen this in the gym industry where sales agents are incentive based on the number of consumers they sign up,” points out Magauta Mphahlele, acting ombud at the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud.

If you’re keen on trying something different but are not sure that it’s right for you, here is advice to follow to ensure that you’re not swindled or forced into a contract or other type of commitment just for sampling the offering:


“Suppliers are not allowed to lock consumers into any contract based on false and misleading representations. The Consumer Protection Act caps fixed-term contracts to two years unless the supplier can prove that entering into a contract longer than two years will be of financial benefit to the consumer,” says Mphahlele.

She adds: “The words ‘free trial’ cannot under any circumstances be construed to mean anything other than that the product or service is offered on a free trial basis without any conditions attached to it. If any conditions are attached to the free trial these must be disclosed to and accepted by the consumer.”


“In general, you should look out for terms like exemption clauses (where a supplier tries to limit or exclude its legal liability or the consumer gives up their rights); unfairly one-sided terms (such as those which give unilateral powers and rights to the supplier or remove a consumer’s rights); terms that create assumptions (such as those which create the assumption that you received all statements); and excessive penalty clauses.

"These kinds of terms, or terms that have the same purpose or effect as these terms, are presumed to be unfair,” says PJ Veldhuizen, managing director of law firm Gillan and Veldhuizen Inc.


The person or company that offers the free trial must ensure that there is sufficient supply of the free goods or services to meet the expected demand.

“The supply or capacity must not be limited unless paying customers are limited in the same way and the consumer must not be expected to accept inferior quality goods or services as a result of the promotional offer. In other words, there must be no discrimination in terms of the quality or quantity of the goods and services because someone is on a free trial,” explains Veldhuizen.

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