Purchase Flow Parade

This article is a short survey of the purchase flows from fifteen cloud storage provider websites to review the different models, tricks and techniques used to entice their customers to buy. In a future post we will outline some hints for purchase flow optimization.

Cloud storage solutions are increasingly commodity offerings from a feature point of view, so pricing and pricing models are critically important differentiators. In order to constrain the exercise, we did not look at comparing features or price points. This article is simply a review of the actual purchase flows and how they presented their offering to the customer. You can see a feature/price comparison of these companies at Top Ten Reviews

The Cloud companies were:

Just Cloud DropBox Carbonite Flip Drive
Sugar Sync Open Drive Box I Backup
Egnyte Mozy Elephant Store Gate
YouSendIt OLSCS A Drive


Trial and Error

Providing a way for the customer to try your product without it costing them is a very typical aspect of cloud offerings and indeed all but one of the offerings provided some mechanism for the customer to try the product without committing, however the way the nature of the trial and the way it was presented differed. Around half the companies offered a trial of 14 or 15 days, and a couple offered 30 day trials. OLCS which was by far the cheapest offering provided no trial but a 45 day risk free period (i.e. they promise to refund you in full for 45 days). Mozy offers no way for you to try their product without a purchase. The remainder offered some form of free product usually with very limited storage capacity, to get people started.

Some of the sites were surprisingly cagey about offering a free trial. Just Cloud who seem to have worked hardest on their marketing tricks encourages people to sign up for “Free Cloud Storage” and only later do you discover that it only “free” for 14 days. In fact I was only able to find to places that mentioned that it was a trial even after sign up. One was the message posted if you share the fact you signed up with your Facebook friends, the other was when you explicitly go to the purchase flow. the idea here is presumably that they want you to sign up, store a bunch of your files with them and only then discover that you have to pay.

Elephant drive seems to keep quiet about their trials for a different reason. They have a free service, but if you select one of their paid plans, at that point they tell you that a free trial is available. Presumably by this point users have a stronger purchase intent and so they may get fewer trial sign ups but probably get much better trial conversion.

Of the companies offering a trial, 60% required you to provide a credit card before they let you sign up. Interestingly, YouSendIt, ask for a credit card to sign up for a trial but if you hit Cancel at that point they have an alternate flow that allows you to sign up for a trial without.

List Price

Presentation of prices is a critical question for the purchase flow. Do you sell the customer on benefits and then show prices? Or do you lead the pitch with the price?

More than half of the companies in our survey showed their prices on a traditional pricing page. OLSCS and Carbonite put their pricing directly on the home page. Just Cloud does not show you pricing until you have signed up for the trial (remember they don’t tell you its a trial upfront) and only when you have shown intent to purchase e.g. by clicking the “Upgrade” button do you get to see how much their service actually costs.

Plan structure and choice

As John alluded to in his article “Goldilocks and the three price points“, there is a standard expectation that customers respond best to a selection between three pricing options, and will tend to favor the middle one.

Only 6 of the 15 companies adhered to this model. Some offered as many as 5 plan options, for example, Sugar Sync’s plan page offers 5 plans, four as the main choice, with one extra at the bottom. To help people find the middle option of four they have a little rosette that identifies the 60GB plan as the most popular. Three of the companies simplify the problem by offering only one plan.

Dropbox has a clever solution to the problem of multiple plans. They actually have 5 plans altogether but they present they never present the user with more than three choices on any page. If you pick Pro you go to a second level of plan choice where you are presented with 3 Pro plans to choose from.

Payment Terms

As we have seen in earlier articles, such as “Weighing up the true value of a customer“, customers who are prepared to make a long term commitment (e.g. a year) are worth more than customers who pay on shorter time frames (e.g. month to month). So, many companies will give discounts for longer term sign-ups. What did the companies in our survey do?

Around 50% of the companies offered the, now standard model of offering a monthly and an annual price and giving the annual price at ten times the monthly – in effect offering two months for free. Store Gate offered no discount for the longer term plan. OLSCS offered a massive 80% discount for the longer term, no doubt they were not expecting people to sign up for the short term plan at all. Egnyte and Carbonite did not offer monthly plans at all although the latter offers 1, 2 and 3 year plan options. Just Cloud had the most flexibility in payment terms providing 1 month, 6 month, 1 year and 2 year term offerings with successive discounts for longer terms.

Two thirds of the flows defaulted to the longest term plan, the remained defaulted to monthly.

Tricks, Promotions and Slights of hand

Just Cloud as we have already seen, tries to get the user to sign up and invest time and energy in their solution before they let on that you actually have to pay for it. However, this is not the only trick in their bag. If you go to their site, at the bottom of every page, and on the site map there is a page called the “secret page”. If you go to this page they present you with a promotional offer 35% off the list prices. However, the catch is that the 35% is only available if you take advantage of it and buy today. Interestingly as I was researching this I went back to the page a couple of days later just to see what it would now say. On revisiting I was presented with a 50% offer, conditional, of course on me purchasing immediately. I went back today and the discount is now 70%.

There were some other interesting offers that I encountered. OLSCS was offering a promotion on their 2 year plan that reduced it in price to less than their 1 year plan. iBackup offered a plan, deep in their flow that gives you ten times the storage space but to take advantage of it you have to skip the free trial.

Overall I have to call out Dropbox that really stood out to me as the master of the purchase flow. Most of the sites had lots of text, multiple tabs to get more information etc. Dropbox has all that stuff but they put it at the bottom of the page. Their sign up can happen almost entirely on their landing page where they have a cartoon video that explains the benefits and a download button to get their app. When you get into the purchase pages they are kept very simple so you only have at most 3 things to decide between at each stage.


Unfortunately, we have no data to compare these different purchase experiences and ultimately the real test of the purchase flow is in the conversions. However, it is interesting to see such a broad range of models and techniques. The purchase flow is an important customer touch point. It is important to consider how it reflects on your brand. My experience with the Just Cloud flow left me wondering how much I could really trust them. Dropbox for me was the winner because of the simplicity of their flows which I think will ultimately be more effective than trying to play clever tricks with customer expectations.