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Is Symantec Store Using Ethical Sales Practices?

Note, this is a rant. I’m sharing this as an example of how companies abuse psychology to sell stuff online.

I stumbled on an interesting sales tactic from the well-known anti-virus store Symantecstore.com. Their brand-new software Norton 360 4.0 (3 user pack) sells for $79.99, but when you press “Add to Cart,” something strange happens…

You are taken to their checkout page, which is handled by Digital River, but wait! There was something else in my cart that I didn’t add. It was Digital River’s “extended download service.”

What is their extended download service? It’s a service that promises to give you the ability to download your software for 1-year after your purchase date for $10.99.

Now think about that for one second…

You can buy the disc at a store for $79.99 and install it for a year for FREE because you have the disc. Yet, here is this company that offers you a “digital disc” for $10.99.

This doesn’t make sense.

Why does a “digital disc” cost $10.99 when a physical disc comes with your purchase for free?

As a consumer, I feel like Digital River and Symantec are passing off their product packaging, distribution, and middle men costs to me.

…But as a marketer, this is a great example of how you can use psychology to persuade people to pay for something that was free. Let me explain.

When you buy software online, if you’re anything like me, one of your first thoughts will be about “how will I get this software back if I lose my computer?”

To top it off, when you’re buying an anti-virus software, you’re already thinking about protecting your data, right?

Well, the extended download service plays off your fears and offers you this service for $10.99.

How ridiculous.

This is a perfect example of abusing psychology to get sales. I mean, if they offered it as an opt-in service, I wouldn’t be nearly as frustrated, but it’s an opt-out service and it’s unreal.

What’s your take? Is this an ethical sales practice? Do you think a company should include an opt-out service in your shopping cart by default?

*Update* It was brought to my attention that this is a Digital River sales tactic. While they sell this service for $10.99, Symantec isn’t free from blame. If you purchase directly from their site, there is something called Norton Download Insurance, which is essentially the same thing for $6.99

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31 comments Leave a comment
Daniel

Any way you slice it, this is absurd. What I hate even more is that Symantec started disabling your local antivirus protection when your subscription ends. In times past, you’d simply lost your access to their servers and stop getting virus definition updates.

Jeanette

That saves me. Thanks for being so ssenblie!

Tehillah Hessler

Last summer I learned about this download insurance via an encounter with Corel. A few years ago I purchased an update to Paint Shop Pro (which I’ve been using since its inception) via download. I normally opt to Save the file to my drive prior to installation (for reinstalls when necessary), but it wasn’t an option and I was extremely busy so I didn’t bother to question the odd behavior. They probably had an opt-in for insurance in the shopping cart, which I obviously didn’t select.

Fast forward 2 years to a laptop crash. Disgusted with Windows Vista problems and the current crash, I decided to wipe my machine clean and do a fresh install of Ubuntu and Windows 7. As I spent a brutal day installing all my software from an external drive, I realized that I didn’t have an executable file for the latest Corel Paint Shop Pro version. So I opened the PDF I had created of my Corel web site receipt and clicked the link to the download location. Guess what? It was no longer available!

They had a newer version out and if I wanted it, I’d have to pay for it. I didn’t want it, I was perfectly happy with the version I had been using and not willing to pay another penny for an upgrade. So I complained to “customer service” and they pretty much told me I was SOL because I hadn’t paid for the download insurance – if I wanted the software I would have to buy a new copy!

Despite the fact that all correspondence with them was online, it took them almost 2 weeks to finally tell me they didn’t care about my business. During that time I still needed to work on client’s websites so I explored other options and after evaluating Snag It during a FREE trial period, I decided I liked it – and TechSmith – better.

Snag It is now running nicely and serves my needs better than Corel Paint Shop Pro – and the installation file is stored on my external drive should I ever need to reinstall.

From this experience, I have decided to BOYCOTT any company that insists I have to buy download insurance. Computers crash, it’s a fact of life, and that in itself is stressful enough to deal with – I shouldn’t have to (and won’t) pay extra for the privilege of being able to reinstall the software too!

Krishna

You are right, that doesn’t make any sense, if I bought the software, its mine to download again anytime I want. Hosting and bandwidth are so cheap, Symantec is basically charging customers for something that should already be a part of the big price tag.

This is not the first example of how Symantec’s customer service lapses. Also, I hear their emails can be pretty “persuasive” – read using scare tactics :-). What’s happened to anti-virus vendors all of a sudden?

Cheers,
Krishna

Robert Donnell

Absolutely unethical!

I am increasingly convinced the Peter Norton is the anti-christ (humor).

Seriously, products that cause PC problems, hinder performance and deceptive sales techniques… what more can you ask for?

Martin Liverance

Recently Symantec billed my card for $75.00 without authorization. I am a computer professional. I was buying a new Symantec antivirus product for one of my customers. I was not able to locate the customer to get their credit card, so I used my card to facilitate the purchase, billing them later for the product. Symantec took my card information and banged another $75.00 on the card a week later to pay for some other renewal products that the customer had overdue. They somehow justified it, but I was appauled. DON’T EVER USE CREDIT CARD INFO OVER THE INTERNET WITH SYMANTEC. You never know when later they might bang your card.

Marie Culver

The real problem is in the lack of consistency. The extended download service is not all that bad of an idea…if it wasn’t for the fact that anybody could download Norton at any point. All you really need to keep handy is a valid subscription key. The only tough part is that in order to re-download Norton, you have to take a scenic route through the website. Rather than logging in and clicking through a link in the account area.

As to what auto-adding the service is like…I’d compare it to what many stores have their employees do at checkout. When you start to pull out your cash or debit card, they ask if you want to sign up for a store credit card. It’s a tiny bit annoying, but you say no and move along.

    Derek

    There’s one major difference though… they ASK you to sign up. They don’t just ring that up on your bill and expect you to opt out.

Ugogurl

They have been doing this for years.
Back in the late 90’s when buying/upgrading/renewing software online became the “thing” to do, Symantec did this to me, only there was no opt out option.
I caved in and purchased/renewed my software that year, only to drop them like a hot mess the following year and went for the free Antivirus protection that was readily available instead.
I was so incensed that I have never purchased another thing from them since and probably never will again.

Here’s the thing; when you buy the disk, then register it online, they already know you have the software, so really what are they charging you for? They track it so you can’t put it/use it in multiple places at the same time, otherwise, how else would they stop “pirating” ?

It’s nothing but a money grab preying on your sense of safety, that gives the company free money for doing nothing, other than storing your “key” to the product. What a farce that is.

It’s the same thing with the telephone company. You activate your phone, either cell or landline, then every month you have a service charge called access fee (usually 6.99 to 8.99) even though you were charged an activation fee when you first bought the phone. Seriously?

When you call the company they say the fee is added to “maintain cells” or “optic lines” to your house. (really? every month someone checks them?)
BUT they also have a $12 feature you can add for landline service that covers; lines to the house, jacks in the house, and any line throughout the house…. again… why when you’ve already paid for it over and over and over again. Let’s face it…. 3+million customers X 6.99 = that’s a whole lotta free money FOR THEM. It’s all a farce! Hwy internet robbery!

I tell you, some companies have us over a barrel and there should be a watch dog out there to stop them.

Joshua Guffey

You’re right Derek…

Upselling ‘insurance’ isn’t new, but I had about the same reaction as you first time I saw this.

My thoughts are that this ‘tactic’ insults the buyer’s intelligence or organizational abilities. Doesn’t seem to me like good impression to leave in your buyer’s mouth. But hey, Symantec is worth a lot more than I am so perhaps the demographics support this model. [that was a joke]

@JoshuaGuffey

Maren Kate

It just reeks of slimy sales tactics to me, I can’t stand that – it makes me turn away from wanting to do business with that company again. What I don’t get is that if that seems to be the gut reaction by everyone – why oh why do company’s keep using this “Gotcha” tactic in their marketing & sales.

Siddhartha

I had to laugh when I read this. Yes, it’s unethical. Yes, it’s sneaky, underhanded and obnoxious.

Yet, as you say, too many companies are trying to get away with tricking us into spending money because we didn’t “catch” them in the act. This puts the burden on the customer. Not cool.

The other part of this scam is to make the charge so low you wonder whether it’s worth it to complain. I once got charged twice for a gallon of milk I bought but didn’t realize it until I got home. Economically it wasn’t worth it to go back to the store but it still bugged me.

I think this goes to show where we are on the Customer Service Continuum. See my thoughts on that here: http://bit.ly/abGabS.

It’s time to say “no” to all Opt-out sales tactics. They drive me nuts.

Greg Doig

Too many online companies are doing what you mentioned in this post. The loss of goodwill far exceeds any profit they may earn, in the short term. Trying to take advantage of a customer, is IMHO, what they are doing. They would call it adding value, sort of like the fox and the grapes.

Darren Scott Monroe

D they been pulling this one for YEARS! I caught it back in 2006 or 07 I think. Plus here is another slickster move they make. They “selectively” make certain screens disappear. For a long while I didn’t know you could get a 3 computer or 4 computer pack for your household vs one each. I caught on quick though LOL

Leon Noone

G’day Derek,
I’m not the least bit surprised. I ran a sucessful offline business for 30 years. I moved it online 18 months ago.

It seems to me that so called “online marketing”—-it isn’t, it’s old fashioned foot in the door selling–operates under a set of “ethical standards” that would be untenable in most offline business.

What’s even more surprising is that the online community ‘cops it sweet.’
Some of the comments you’ve received reflect this.

Scream “blue murder” Derek if you think you have good reason.

Regards

Leon

    Derek

    What I don’t understand is… the FTC smacks down affiliate marketers. Yet, they allow this type of behavior to persist.

    I’m just trying to picture how I’d react if someone dropped something in my shopping cart at a brick and mortar store. I’d be incredulous.

      Jess

      Darn good point. Ah, politics.

Andy Fogarty

Derek – Good point about buying the tv. That would piss me off to the point of them having to remove me from the store. I’m officially going this one unethical.

    Derek

    I knew you’d come around.

Ian

What’s also amazing is that many software companies I’ve purchased from over the years actually offered their download services at a discounted price if I chose that option rather than have them send me a disk. These companies saw the value of money saved over producing and shipping a physical product.

So, with the fact that it’s actually cheaper for the company to offer it’s product via download in mind, they have basically decided that their customers are all idiots and can easily be duped into paying something for nothing.

Yes they provide you with access to re-download it again, but that still doesn’t cost them anymore money… they are still offering it to any potential customer throughout that same time!

So, not only is it unethical to simply dump this into your cart without asking. But they are also forcing you to pay for something of no cost to themselves.

I can see how they think it’s a brilliant business idea… creating revenue from nothing, but this type of business garners nothing but ill-will from your customers (see this blog).

A better way to approach the issue would be for them to simply you offer this choice… buy the disk at $80 bucks, or download it for $75, and because you’ve chosen to save us cash by downloading it, if your computer falls out of the window of a bus (long story), we’ll let you download it again for free. I wonder how many more sales they’d gain this way rather than turning people off using their current strategy.

    Brendan

    Sure, but it’s basic pricing practice to not base a price on what the cost (or in this case savings) is, but on what the value or willingness to pay for the customer is.

    That said, I think opt out purchases are vile.
    B

    Derek

    It’s amazing. Companies prefer money over user satisfaction. The funny thing is, they pitch this “extended download service” as a way for you to back up your purchase so you don’t lose it. So, people will buy it, and they will be glad to pay for it because they think it’s a real help.

Harl Delos

Digital River is the unethical one. They do that with ALL their customers.

On the other hand. Radio Shack insisted three times that I needed a service policy for Magic Jack. It sells for $40, but $20 is for the jack, $20 for the service. Paying $15 to warrant a $20 doodad that already has a 90-day warranty? I think not – but I just about walked out of the store without it.

Then 20 minutes later, I bought a coffee mill at Kmart for $13, and they wanted me to buy a service contract for $10. They took my word for it whan I said no, however.

And that’s just in the last week. I fully expect McDonald’s to sell a service contract against spilled coffee within the next month or so.

    Derek

    What’s sad is, as long as these types of contracts keep selling, companies will keep offering them.

    This is one of the reasons why I love the Thesis Theme for WordPress. When you buy that product, you get access to support and forums for FREE.

Jess

Come on folks..are we being serious here?

This is an auto opt in for a paid (and questionably useless) service. If it was your email address that was auto added to an email list without your permission, would you call that ethical? At the very least its annoying.

Picture your last trip to the grocery store, you’ve filled up your basket with all sorts of tasty foods and you’re at the check out. The clerk is scanning your items, and just as she’s about to be done, she grabs the National Enquirer of the shelf, scans it and put’s it in your bag.

Were you watching? If so you probably said “Hey, I didn’t want that! Mumble mumble, curse, curse.” If you didn’t catch it, you are now the proud owner of the National Enquirer (an arguably equally useless product to the D.R. Download service)

For Symantec to be pulling this stuff tells me 2 things.

1) They’re in the “milking it” stage of the product lifecycle

2) They have no intention of offering a great experience to their customers.

Which in my books = a lame company

Offering the 10.99 add on as an add on is perfectly fine in my book (people still buy extended warranties, so I’m sure they’ll still buy this, though I think the Simpson’s has that one figured out – “Extended warranty? How can I lose? “) But offer it as an optional add on, not a deliberate chance to screw their customers.

This sort of thing should be especially aggravating for anyone who operates online with honesty and integrity. For too long the internet has been a “scary wasteland of scammers and lairs” (thanks mom for that ) But she has a point, we need to be encouraging trust, and honesty online, it’s for our own good.

ps I found this in Digital River’s Crunch Base Profile, I think it’s fitting

“Digital River has become experts in handling the complexities – that is all the behind-the-scene details – involved in running global online businesses.

Each day, Digital River focuses their efforts on helping our clients aggressively pursue online shoppers, market their products and win sales. ”

That you do folks, that you do, but at what cost?

    Derek

    Here’s the funny thing. If you buy directly from the Norton store, they offer the similar service called Norton Download.

    Corporations are treating this as easy money. They are reaching into your basket and adding items without your purchase.

    It’s a little unreal, right?

uberVU - social comments

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by derekhalpern: How Symantec Sells A Service that Was Free For $10.99 – http://bit.ly/citXLx (please retweet this. this is ridiculous)…

Andy Fogarty

As much as I absolutely hate this tactic, I’m not sure I can call unethical. As long as it’s very clear that it’s in your cart and easily removed, it can probably be considered as ethical.

That said, I think it’s ridiculous but it seems to be getting popular. I had never seen this tactic until about 6 months ago and I’ve now dealt with it on 4 different occasions.

As for as loosing anything goes, I backup everything weekly *without fail*, and if I purchase a course or some other software I almost always back it up right then. It’s just too easy to not do it, ya know?

    Derek

    It seems like they’re skirting on a gray line here. What if you went to Best Buy to buy a brand new tv set. Instead of asking you if you wanted insurance, they automatically rang it up and then asked you to pay for it. You’d have the option to remove it, but they automatically added it… would that be okay?

      Matt Langford

      Derek, I agree with you here… I think it’s absolutely unethical!

      What if that gas pump automatically included the car wash instead of asking you to opt in? How many people would rush through the process and not realize what they’re buying? It’s taking advantage of their buyer’s situation, plain and simple.

        Derek

        Absolutely. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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