Gifts at Christmas used to be the preserve of Santa and his elves, but now everybody is giving things away for free. Laptop computers were a popular ?free? item this Christmas ? provided, for example, consumers signed up for a mobile internet contract.

Expensive freebies

What is actually happening with these deals is a form of rental or leasing but, for some reason known only to the companies that make the offers, the word ‘free’ is used. Why is this? Is this a lie? Is the wool being pulled over the eyes of the consumer, the Government or trading standards? When looked at properly, alternative contracts are available without the laptops and they cost less – so how can the laptop be free?

If you read some of the contracts carefully, you will notice that the laptop might actually belong to the company that gave it to you for ‘free’. There is obviously some kind of credit involved, which would in theory give the consumer some kind of protection in a similar way to how credit cards offer the buyer who uses them some extra protection. Perhaps it is time for the Government and consumer organisations such as Which? to look more carefully at some of these deals and how they are advertised.

So, how can you compete with free? The first step is to remind the customer to add up the total cost of the contract. Remind them that there is no point in getting a free laptop if it comes with expensive services they don’t need. For businesses that are wary of large upfront costs, you could offer a leasing facility. Finally, remind the customer about choice. There is often little or no choice when a free laptop is given to them, but by purchasing their own, they can broaden their options.

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