Saturday, May 22, 2010

Grammarly responds to complaints about not disclosing their pricing

This post is part of a four-part series on Grammarly.
  1. Grammarly: Misleading website kills my desire to learn about their service
  2. Grammarly responds to my claim that their website is misleading
  3. Grammarly: Impressive response to complaints reignites my desire to learn about their service
  4. Grammarly responds to complaints about not disclosing their pricing
Additionally, you'll find my review of Grammarly for English-learning purposes here.


After I put up the post regarding Grammarly's response to the complaints raised on this blog, Max Lytvyn, one of Grammarly's founders, wrote back once again, which started another email back-and-forth, with pricing being the main focus this time.

In short, while Grammarly intends to make it easier to get pricing information without first providing contact information, Max defends their existing system based on industry norms and their need to figure out which users are entitled to discounts due to Grammarly having agreements with their schools, etc. I argue that they can meet this requirement and still be upfront about it.

Here's the email chain:
From: Max Lytvyn
To: Street-Smart Language Learning
Subject: RE: Your blog post about Grammarly.com
Date: May 13, 2010 7:47:12 AM JST

Hi Vincent,

… I’ve noticed that you suggested in one of your blog post that presenting pricing upfront, before users need to enter their contact information, would be an improvement.

I agree with that, but there is a good reason for asking for a user email before showing the pricing, and this reason is actually mentioned on our registration page. Users with certain email addresses (e.g., student@university.edu or employee@business.com) receive premium accounts at a reduced price or at no cost at all, depending on our agreements with their educational institution or company. We need to know the email address to show the right price… With users often not knowing about blanket licenses (usually the case with students), this is the best approach we found – license codes, etc. create way too much confusion. And with more and more institutional and corporate accounts, the notion of “standard” pricing becomes less and less applicable to Grammarly. That alone, I think, justifies the approach Grammarly uses.

Not that it needs any justification - structuring the sales process in such a way that a buyer finds out about price only after he/she has a chance to find out about the product and to digest that information is often essential and beneficial to everybody. It leads to more users discovering the product they need, instead of being distracted and confused by pricing of something they do not understand. Grammarly is not a commodity product, with which a potential client would immediately understand the value just from the product name. You can say “beer - $5 a pint” and everybody will understand how it is better than “beer - $7 a pint”, but if you say “Grammarly - $20” or even “Grammar checking - $20” – no one will understand if/how it is better than, for example, a free spell checker they have in Microsoft Word. Many websites, similar to Grammarly in a sense that they offer a unique product, have similar structure, including the ones that are considered exemplary and are universally respected – www.westlaw.com, www.highbeam.com, www.lumosity.com and www.linkedin.com, for instance – you do not see the price until you learn about the product, register, and even establish some relationship with the vendor.

Yes, such practice is going to irritate some visitors. But vast majority of users do not mind. When you call a business to ask about anything, the first response is usually “Can I have your name?” Why would doing the same thing on the Web be wrong (given that nothing unethical is done with the information)? According to our stats, virtually all of our visitors share this view. Regarding the rest - what is the chance that people so distrusting that they do not even want to identify themselves will so radically change their mind once they see the pricing, so that they will be able to disclose their credit card numbers? It has been tested – there is no chance. People who are not comfortable giving us their name, for whatever reason, will not give us their credit card number or even their documents for processing. So there is no point in showing them pricing or optimizing the Web site to their liking, especially if it hurts experience of other users. Anyway, this is more of a philosophical discussion than a practical one. Grammarly needing each user’s email address to determine the pricing this user is eligible for makes this a moot question.

As I mentioned before, I have no objection to your posts being available to the public, and, although our views sometimes differ, I have no reason to question your objectivity. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing about some of the comments of your readers – there are some misinformed or hateful comments that, if taken at face value, will undeservedly harm the company and the product. For example, a comparison to Classmates.com – Classmates.com uses your contact information to expand their database, which is what they then sell to other users, and Grammarly does nothing like that – no personal information is sold or shared, and unused accounts are just purged from the system. However, such a comparison to Classmates.com is likely to create a perception that Grammarly engages in similar activities and thus to hurt the reputation of the product. Similarly, phrases like “promising something for nothing” are not accurate (I think trying to explain why would be redundant) and will definitely mislead readers who are not reading through the entire series of posts about Grammarly or are just skimming through the text.

Also, readers who mention the percentage of users visiting the site only once as an indication of the site being deceptive very much distort the reality and mislead other readers. Anyone familiar with Web analytics would know that numbers I sent you are very good, especially for such a niche product. For sites like Grammarly, it is typical to have 40%+ bounce rate (number of visitors who do not even read the first page). The percentages of visitors who never return for one-product Web sites are often upwards of 80%. It is normal for people to visit Web sites out of curiosity. I am sure the reader who posted that comment does not buy every product he/she sees, but he/she believes it is justified to call a company a fraud if not 100% of their storefront visitors use their product repeatedly. Also, many people have only one visit on the record because they have just discovered Grammarly (it is their first visit) – in any place there is a percentage of people who are there for the first time, and all of these people would have been to that place just once at the time of the measurement. Again, not every reader will be engaged enough to understand the absurdity of that reader’s comment and may think that indeed, one-time visitors were misinformed or otherwise unhappy.

People are entitled to having their opinions, but it is very disturbing to see how some comments cause unjust damage to the company’s reputation.

Thanks
Max
My reply:
From: Street-Smart Language Learning
To: Max Lytvyn
Subject: Re: Your blog post about Grammarly.com
Date: May 15, 2010 4:34:51 AM JST

Hi Max,

… I think you can easily handle the issue of needing to let people know when they are eligible for a reduced-price or no-cost subscription without needing to hide your prices behind an email submission wall. Simply include a pricing page as I suggested before but prominently include something along the lines of this:
You may be eligible for a no-cost or reduced-price subscription provided by your school or company. Please enter your school or work email below to see if you're eligible.
And I'd also include this in smaller text near the form:
Your email will be used solely to check your eligibility for reduced pricing. It will not be collected or used for any other purpose.
Then, as a second safeguard, if they do apply for an account, you can ask them to use their school or work email to register and check again. No one's going to be annoyed if at that step you tell them that they don't have to pay as much, but people will be annoyed if they can't find the pricing without first entering a collected email.

I don't think I would agree with you that finding out about a product before getting pricing is "often essential and beneficial to everybody", but I certainly will say that there's no problem at all with finding out about a product before finding out about pricing information. The issue is that there's no way to find out about the pricing of Grammarly without first giving up an email.

I actually was able to easily find pricing on WestLaw and LinkedIn without providing any contact information, but I wasn't able to do the same on Highbeam and Lumosity. But even if they are "exemplary and respected", I'd still fault them for it. And, in any case, I'm not persuaded by any arguments along the lines of "Big Company X is doing it, so it's OK if we do it too". There are plenty of "exemplary and respected" companies that do plenty of things that are less than stellar.

If I call a business to ask about price and they ask me for my name, I might give them my first name thinking that they just want to be able to use that in the call. But if I call a business to ask about price and they won't give me the pricing information until they collect my contact information (so that they can follow up with me if I end up not buying anything), my response is going to be to call another store. Grammarly's collect-contact-info-before-revealing-pricing is doing just that.

I don't think the only way to interpret your stats is that "virtually all" of your visitors share your view. First, if Grammarly really is the best grammar checker out there, people might merely be putting up with what they don't like to get to what they do. Second, if a large portion of your users come from institutions with reduced-cost or no-cost accounts for all their members, this could very well explain a great deal of your users' loyalty, even while they may not agree with your view at all.

I don't think this issue is about people who are so paranoid that they won't reveal their names or their documents. Clearly those people are a lost cause. Rather, it's about the people who are wary about sites that have any of the signs of being scammy, and pricing buried behind a bunch of steps—especially when one of those steps is collecting contact information—is one of those signs.

As for the comments on my blog, I encourage you to respond to them there. I intend to put these emails up as well, so your counter-arguments to their positions will be aired, but I think replying in the comments would be the best way to make sure that any visitors on my site will see your clear response to what the commenters have said.

Regards,

Vincent
Max's response:
From: Max Lytvyn
To: Street-Smart Language Learning
Subject: RE: Your blog post about Grammarly.com
Date: May 15, 2010 9:54:38 AM JST

Hi Vincent,

… I was not trying to make an argument that is a known and big company is doing something, it means it’s ok for everybody to do it. This is never a valid argument.

We will also put up pricing information link on the main page and see if it does more good or bad.

The point I was trying to make is that sometimes it is necessary to structure user experience in a certain way and force users to follow a certain path to ensure that the system works. It is easy when you are dealing with a client face-to-face, when you can hold a client’s hand through the entire process, or in a brick-and-mortar business where there are certain commonly known norms and traditions (you would not enter a restaurant through a delivery dock). On the Web, vendors have to be more strict as to what users can and cannot do, as users come from anywhere, have different backgrounds and intentions, and do anything they please. And even the examples you used as counter-argument actually support that, as the pricing you found in both cases was on websites different from the main storefront, with no direct link from the main product page (not on westlaw.com or linkedin.com). It was removed from the immediate user path to create certain user experience. Just like with these products, our goal is not to get a user’s email address – it is making sure a user follows a certain path and is presented with information in a certain sequence.

It is a business’ decision when to talk with the client about the price, and what conditions a client has to meet to find out about the price. Using your example with the phone call to a business – yes, you have the right to not use their services and even to be angry if you’d like, but would you call them cheaters or shady business? You can leave, you can get suspicious, you could even call them idiots, but you would have no moral right to call them cheaters or tricksters, as long as they are upfront about their practices.

Grammarly is upfront about what we do with user information – we CANNOT sell it or share it with any third party, we fully comply with CAN-SPAM Act, and we do reserve the right to send follow-up messages, unless the user asks us not to. This information is available on EVERY page of the Web site. It is up to a user to decide if he/she wants to accept these terms. And even if a user accepts these terms by mistake, it is possible and very easy to completely reverse such an agreement (get account removed) without any cost or consequence. I think this policy is very clear and reasonable.

You mentioned that certain group of Web site visitors is a “lost cause” – not worth pursuing. Such clients realize they are not the target and tend to get angry. However, the only moral right they have is to vote with their feet. They do not have the right to disparage a business. Would you condone a teenager egging a car dealership because he was not deemed a potential buyer and denied a test-drive? If not, why would you condone disparagement of Grammarly for not pursuing clients who are not willing to provide us with their contact information (despite our clear and reasonable privacy policy)? If our statistics tells us that it makes no sense to attempt to sell anything to this group, are we still be obligated to spend resources to provide these people with pricing information? Any change to a Web site is a significant cost, because we have to market-test it.

We are committed to making sure that our advertising or site texts do not create any false expectations, and we welcome any suggestions to improve in this area. Our privacy policy and terms of service are clearly visible, and we will always strictly adhere to them. And we constantly monitor client behavior and level of satisfaction to make sure all processes are optimized for increasing the number of satisfied and loyal clients. But we have to balance needs of different client groups, and some of our decisions may not be universally liked by everyone. For example, any action that reduces the number of paying clients, reduces our ability to offer volume discounts to educational institutions and to introduce product improvements; any increase in functional abilities of the free service, reduces the value paying clients are getting for their money, making them complain, and so on. Some clients want us to further improve the product FAST, and they are ready to pay more so that we could invest more in development; others want the price reduced and complain that the product is too expensive. We just ask for understanding that any action has a cost to us and to our clients, and such costs are often far from obvious. And sometimes we have to do things in a certain way to make sure everything is optimized and balanced. We are committed to making sure this way is always ethical, but unfortunately that does not mean satisfying everyone.

Thank you for your understanding. We will continue making changes we discussed, and I will keep you updated on the progress.

Max
In a short follow-up email (the rest of which I've including in this post), Max had the following to add:
From: Max Lytvyn
To: Street-Smart Language Learning
Subject: RE: Your blog post about Grammarly.com
Date: May 15, 2010 10:29:36 AM JST

We are preparing for testing time-limited free trials of a premium product. We will have to ask for a credit card number at the beginning of the trial to prevent abuse (users will not be able to use the same card or the same billing address for multiple trials), but we will not bill the card until the trial expires and the client confirms he/she decided to keep the product. Of course, we will make sure users understand the terms and the process when they sign up for the trial.
In an email discussing my review of Grammarly (the rest of which has been added to that post), Max additionally had this to say about pricing:
From: Max Lytvyn
To: Street-Smart Language Learning
Subject: RE: Your blog post about Grammarly.com
Date: May 18, 2010 9:24:38 AM JST

An employee pointed out one other thing to me. Grammarly pricing information was available as a part of the Licensing section of the FAQ, which is similar to your LinkedIn.com example, but with fewer clicks in case of Grammarly. A user would just need to search for “pricing” in the FAQ or click on the Licensing subsection of the Help page (linked on every page of the site), which is just one step more than if the pricing page was linked directly from the main page. Neither approach requires providing an email address. We still will market-test a pricing page linked from the main page to see how users react to it. I just wanted to point out that the statement that there is no way to find Grammarly pricing without providing an email address is not entirely accurate.
However, I wasn't able to find this information when I first looked, and checking again, it took me a while to finally track it down.

If you go to their support page, neither the words "price" or "cost" are mentioned. The same is true of their FAQ page. If you click on the "Subscriptions and Billing" page in the FAQs, you'll get three links (How do I cancel my subscription?, I purchased a monthly subscription and has been charged again. What's going on?, and I want a refund!), none of which have any information about pricing. If you search the FAQs for "price" and "cost", you end up with "0 results found in all forums" for both.

After I wrote all of the above, I saw a link for a "Licensing: Plans and Solutions" section in the forums. At first glance, I had thought that was for large institutions to get licenses, but that is actually where the information is for everybody. Click through to the "Currently Grammarly Plans" section and sure enough you find the basic pricing.

However, the fact that I couldn't find this last time, that I was only able to find it this time because someone told me that it was there (making me less likely to give up), and that Max didn't even know this existed until someone pointed it out to him, means that it's buried way to deep to be easily findable. On WestLaw and LinkedIn, in contrast, it was easy for me to find the pricing information, even though it wasn't prominently linked on the home page or part of the flow of the site.

That said, all of this will be moot once Grammarly makes it easy to find the pricing, so I look forward to their improvements.

10 comments:

  1. Well, what drives any web business is conversion. If they've truly done an A/B test with sufficient numbers to control for any other factors and found that the form requiring an email address converts better than the one without, then obviously they should leave it like that. However, if the decision isn't based on facts and only the opinions of the CEO, then you have more a problem. I personally agree with you that I would be turned off of a product or service that wouldn't tell me pricing info. But opinions don't matter. What matters (to Grammerly) is how many sign-ups Grammerly gets. They should use whichever design has been shown, with cold hard data, to improve sales.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What if being scammy leads to the most improved sales? I think you need to do whatever leads to improved sales while still being honest and clear about your product and pricing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Why do they seem to be so resistant to moving towards less-scammy approaches for things?

    When I call a business, the first thing they ask is -not- my name. In fact, the only time I've ever had that happen is when a very questionable sales pitch is about to happen.

    And as far as having to ask for a quote goes, I've NEVER bought anything that I had to ask for a quote for. Even if I asked for that quote. It's like a shop that doesn't put prices on things: "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."

    And finally, the free-trial-but-you-must-give-your-credit-card approach is something that too many people have been burned on. They automatically expect that there's some hard-to-cancel automatic billing involved. It may indeed help prevent abusers, but it's also going to scare a lot of legit customers. In fact, just the existence of such a 'free trial' scares people. I just went through this with my father the other day. He must have said 5 times 'I'm worried that there's something I'd have to remember to cancel or I'd get billed.'

    In this era of viruses, malware, scams and generally buyer-beware-iness, transparency with the customer is vital. They shouldn't have to guess or give out personal information to learn more about your service.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yeah, I'm no fan of needing to give up a credit card number before you get a free trial either. I'd only be likely to ever do that if it specifically said that I would never be charged again unless I explicitly opt in. If Grammarly does it like that, I suppose it could be an acceptable solution, although I agree that many customers, like your father, will nevertheless suspect a scam and turn away from it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I personally would never pay for a software service without a free trial beforehand. I just wouldn't trust it. Most software is rubbish.

    But then, if they have a free trial, the problem is of course how to stop fraudulent users. A credit card seems like a good solution here.

    But as wccrawford points out, it would put some people off. It would put me off somewhat. I wouldn't be thrilled about the idea of having my credit card number stored on someone's server. (Hopefully they would just store a hash, but you never know.)

    I was thinking though that having fraudulent users would not necessarily be a bad thing in the scheme of things. I imagine that Grammarly's marginal cost per user would be near zero. Each additional user would cost them very little, just a tiny bit of bandwidth and server capacity. It's not like they are selling physical goods after all.

    What would matter to them instead is that they have a lot of paying customers. That's where the money is coming from. So long as the fraudulent customers don't cost too much, they just wouldn't matter.

    If we assume that only a small proportion of people are dishonest, and only a small proportion of those would now how to fake an email address, then maybe just validating email addresses would be enough.

    I'm just thinking out loud here. I'm not familiar with how their business works.

    ReplyDelete
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  7. I tried to cancel my free trial, but the site never loads. Tried every day for a week, then my credit card was charged $95. Emailed them and left a voice mail, waiting to hear if they will issue a refund.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have signed up for Grammarly to help me write papers for college.I am currently a student and i wish i would have read this before taking into account that Grammarly has basically taken my credit card information and has tried to take my money. Like you all i have only signed up for a 7 day trial in which after the 5th day i canceled it and delete my account with Grammarly.I sent multiple emails and called and have said what exactly has gone on,ive noticed that only the machine picks up to tell me to leave a message. I do leave messages stating my name and why im calling.Now I have recieved numerous emails stating that my payment for them has not been going through and that theres insufficent ammount of money in my bank account. Im not sure what to do and they keep billing me for something i no long want and have canceled.. can someone please help me?

    ReplyDelete
  9. I work on the Grammarly support
    team and would like to offer help to those who have expressed a need for
    assistance.



    Instead of creating a number of
    posts, I'll summarize here so that it can be found in one place.



    In reading through the posts, I see
    there are those with the following issues:  1) logging into their account,  2)
    getting their account canceled successfully, and 3) not getting a call back
    after leaving a voice message for us.



    1.) Unable to log into their
    account - 



    Most often this is due to
    incorrectly spelling the email address when you created your account. If you
    misspell your email account when you create the account, you are still able to
    use the service that first time, or for as long as you are logged in for that
    matter. This gives the impression that you are successfully logged in. Then,
    when you try to use the account again, you can't get in. This gives the
    incorrect impression that what has changed is that we are no longer
    available.



    This can be resolved by contacting
    us through the online service and providing us with your known account
    information: Name, email address, credit card number of the card being charged.
    We use this information to determine what email address you did use to create
    the account and rectify the situation either by changing your email address to
    the correct spelling or resetting your password so you gain access to your
    account.



    2.) Canceled but still being billed
    -



    If you have
    canceled your account and are still receiving bills, then you may have one or
    more additional accounts with Grammarly.



    I know this may
    not seem likely or even possible to some of you, but I have seen as many as 4
    additional accounts the user forgot they had created along the way.



    It's easy to
    correct, so don't panic. Just email support with the credit card number of the
    card being charged and we will take care of it. (With the credit card number we
    can locate any email being used whereas with an email we only locate that ONE
    account.)



    In most cases,
    we are able to refund those additional charges if we catch them early. 



    3.) Not getting
    a return call after leaving a voice message - 



    We always
    return voice messages or attempt to contact you via email. In those cases where
    you do not hear back from us, it is most likely we were not able to understand
    your message. There are so many times we each take a turn listening to a voice
    message trying to make out the email address or the persons name and simply
    can't.

    I would highly
    recommend using the online service rather than leaving a voice message and
    thinking it will be taken care of without any sort of confirmation from us.
    Please, just let us know online as we are there to help you.


    I hope this
    helps those users who are currently in need of assistance and perhaps anyone
    else who might read the blog with similar issues to contact us online. 



    Thank you very
    much for your time and I look forward to assisting you.

    Valerie

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yo,lo que puedo decir en contra de busuu.com,es que nunca lo he pasado tan mal como haciendo el curso de Aleman.Las lecciones siempre eran las mismas,en vez de ser agradable resultaba aburrido,malas traducciones al español,al final me cansè y lo tuve que dejar por cansancio.(merinomariano787@gmail.com)

    ReplyDelete