The coffee offer strategy: minimize price resistance and qualify the potential customer


When it comes to selling products and services, a good marketing strategy can surely go a very long way. This is even truer in the few final steps of the funnel. There are many different tricks that can be implemented when a little final push is needed: one that can surely sweeten the deal is the coffee offer.

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“I’ll cut you a deal: get my product for just a coffee”

The coffee offer is a marketing strategy implemented at the last step of a sales funnel. It really is a simple but powerful trick that reduces the greatest barrier before the final conversion of a prospect: price.

It involves giving something of “tremendous value” for an “insignificant price”.

In its “pure” form, it works like this: at checkout, instead of paying full price, you pay just 1€ to get access to the full product or service. You can try it out for a few days, after which you will automatically get charged the full price or recurring payments. If you don’t like it during the first few days, you can cancel your purchase.

The name “coffee offer” comes from the price: for the cost of a coffee (1€), you can access the product or service first so you can make an informed purchase. It works essentially like a “trial period”, but unlike it, you get charged the full price automatically if you don’t explicitly cancel your purchase.

However, the coffee offer is not limited to just €1. Indeed, in many cases the strategy is implemented with higher amounts.

Note. Coffee offers share similarities with tripwires, but have some quite distinct characteristics.

The irresistible deal of caffeine

Given the way it works, this pricing strategy is widely used online. It is particularly suitable for selling digital content (such as e-courses, software, memberships) and for affiliate marketing, but it can be easily adapted to many different situations and even be used for physical products.

It can be a good trick to increase those first conversions when tripwires and lead magnets are not feasible or not working, or it can work alongside them in subsequent upsells. It’s also a good option for limited-time promotions.

The raison d’etre of coffee offers is twofold: minimize price resistance and qualify the potential customer.

Indeed, after going through the copy of a product or service, people arrive at the final step and end up in front of the price.

It is at this time that most people have to justify themselves why they are going to complete the purchase, especially if it’s an expensive one (“I love it; I need it; I just want to treat myself something nice for once; it’s going to pay itself in time…”).

A coffee offer aims at lowering this “justification barrier” with an almost irresistible deal. Many people will rather think “I can just try it out, if I don’t like it I can just cancel it”. When the product is of high quality, refund rates are usually low.

While minimizing resistance to conversion, the coffee offer also performs a second important task: qualifying the potential customer, identifying who is ready to pay.

Why not just free?

An important aspect to underline is that the coffee offer has a price, albeit low, rather than the free tag. This makes them similar to “paid trial”.

“Free” is a very powerful word. However, the problem of free stuff is that it attracts many people that literally just want “the free stuff”, and have no actual interest in paying for the complete product or service.

These people have no financial and emotional investment. It is very unlikely to differentiate them from people with a genuine interest without implementing some other profiling method.

The coffee offer, on the other hand, can be a powerful method to discern who is actually ready to pay for the product.

On the downside, fewer people will that take on the offer compared to a “free trial”, which could be less than optimal if you’re trying to raise awareness. On the flip side, these people will be more qualified.

Moreover, the coffee offer is not limited to just €1; indeed, the same strategy can be easily extended to contexts with substantially higher amounts as well.

Not limited to 1€ coffees

While in its “pure” form it has a price tag of €1, it is important to underline that a coffee offer involves giving something of “tremendous value” for an “insignificant amount.

Both elements assume different meaning depending on the context (your industry, reputation, scarcity, prices…).

In many cases, “something” for 1€ sounds good. In high-tickets sales, such an amount is completely irrelevant to qualify potential customers.

Thus, you can use the same principle in high-value scenarios and simply change the amount of the offer.

An expensive software or equipment could have a 60-days trial offered for €100, with the full amount charged after the user has set it up and got used to it, if he does not cancel it.

A sportscar dealer could offer test drives on its private racing grounds for €500 to let you get a feel of the car, and deduce it from total price if the purchase is made within a week.

A renowned consultant could require thousand or hundreds of thousands of €s to work on a project with a big client. However, many negotiations could end up with nothing.

The consultant could offer to schedule the first meeting for a 100€ or 1000€ down payment. Not only he makes some cash, but most importantly he can weed out those less convinced of relying on his service.

Of course, there’s no coffee that costs €100 or €1k (not that I know of at least!), but when the value of the core offer is taken into account even €1000 (or more!) can be just small change, “just like a coffee”.

While the exact amount may vary, it is still negligible when compared to the true cost of the product or service and the benefit of trying it is large.

Examples of coffee offers

Let’s see some cases where coffee offers are implemented.

Disclaimer. I do not endorse any of the products or services listed here, nor have I ever bought them. I only use them as examples.

Digital products

Given the way it works, coffee offers are mainly used online and for digital products.

The standard version of the coffee offer is to give first access to the product for just 1$ and charge the full amount after the trial period. This is often phrased as a “XX-days trial for 1$” offer.

Let’s start right off the bat with a case of bad implementation: a membership to a “power of the mind and mysticism” group (yes, it can really be used in any context! :D). Here, the copy is unnecessarily complicated and the conditions are unclear, which makes the offer looks scammy.

Bad example of coffee offer: the confusing copy makes it look scammy
Source: MindReality

Much better are the next cases. It is common as an introductory promo for subscription plans, like in the case of this website about dieting recipes…

Coffe offer used as intro promo to a monthly subscription to dieting recipes
Source: 7DayMeal

…or this “personal development” training by Brendon Burchard, famous coach and NYT bestseller author.

Coffe offer used as intro promo to a monthly subscription to personal development courses
Source: Brendon.com

Of course, the subscription cycle can be longer: the Boston real estate investors association has a yearly membership subscription (the copy is unnecessarily long, so I cut it).

Coffe offer used as intro promo to a yearly subscription to an association
Source: Boston REIA

The offer can be evergreen or available for a limited time only. EA occasionally promotes the paid plans of the gaming platform Origin with coffee offers and free trials.

Source: EA

Very commonly, the coffee offer has a higher price. The same principles apply, and the strategy remains very effective as long as the perceived value of the product or service is high enough.

The offer here is to get access to a ton of diabetes-friendly recipes, and the message is very clear.

This offer for a SEO ranking software is interesting, as it shows this pricing strategy used alongside other payment options.

Moreover, coffee offers can be used alongside other strategies. Take this weight loss program, where the 1$ trial is used as an upsell.

Finally, One of the best uses of coffee offers is possibly for limited-time products and services, after a launch has ended. I wrote a separate article about this.

Physical products

Up to this point, we’ve seen only digital products or services. For physical products, the coffee offer strategy is surely trickier to implement, as they involve different cost structures, including production costs to shipping fees.

Moreover, the cases of successful implementations are very close to tripwire strategies. Personally, I have never seen a “pure” coffee offer associated with physical products.

Giving away a physical product for very little cash is likely barely profitable; as such, they are associated with a subscription model. Subscriptions are where the money’s at in these cases, turning the initial loss to profit for the company.

Coffee offer in physical products. Higher price, monthly subscription. Dollar Shave Club.
Source: DollarShaveClub

Dollar Shave Club is a quite famous brand of men’s shaving products which “is still gaining subscribers at a rate of 10% a year and now has 3.9 million subscribers” (MarketingWeek, Oct. 2018). Body cleaning and oral care items have also been later introduced.

They offer a starter set at the eye-catching price of $5 + free shipping. Afterwards, they will send you a monthly Restock Box, and you can cancel at any time.

A second successful case is Harry’s, which operates in the same shaving and grooming industry and ammassed over 3 million customers (AdWeek, Jan. 2017). The guys there are incredible marketers.

Coffee offer in physical products. Customization of trial offer: free + shipping. Harry's.
Source: Harry’s

They give the option of choosing between two coffee offers. First, a seemingly free trial. In truth, it’s a free + shipping option, and it works wonders to make it even more tempting.

Alongside it, there is a special offer for a “premium” version of the product, for a discounted price + shipping.

Coffee offer in physical products. Customization of trial offer: premium + shipping. Harry's.
Source: Harry’s

Then, not only you can pick your preferred refill subscription packages…

Coffee offer in physical products. Customization of subscription: content. Harry's.
Source: Harry’s

…but even the subscription frequency. Of course, you can cancel anytime.

Coffee offer in physical products. Customization of subscription: frequency. Harry's.
Source: Harry’s

In just three simple steps, they give you an enticing first offer and customize the following monetary commitment to your needs, greatly reducing the conversion barrier in the process.

Coffee offer in physical products. The three steps of customization. Harry's.
Source: Harry’s

A third and final case is another subscription service. Love with Food sends monthly boxes full of delicious all-natural food and snacks, while also donating meals to American families in need for every box sent. To attract subscribers, they promote your first tasting box with a free + shipping coffee offer.

Source: LoveWithFood

Overall, the use cases of coffee offers for physical products seem quite limited. In practice, they are harder to pull off and are limited to consumable and high-frequency items.

Coffee offers: transparency and scams

To work as intended, the coffee offer must be very transparent. It is essential to make people clearly aware of both the initial and the final cost automatically applied if they decide to stick around, as well as of all the other conditions.

This is a good and legitimate business practice.

It is very different from offers with unclear terms, hidden costs and automatic subscriptions (we all have some in mind). Indeed, the coffee offer can work very well for scams. I personally despise such practices and do not endorse them in any way.

Make sure you are trustworthy in the eyes of your visitors: clear and simple conditions are key for a successful implementation of the strategy.

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Alessandro De Vecchi

Marketing, web, and anything-tech enthusiast.
Newbie blogger, spends his nights studying, testing, creating content and job hunting.
Gray and blue are his favourite colours. Loves minimalism.

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