How to Boost Your Sales with a Strong Guarantee

image of guarantee rubber stamp

You didn’t used to see many guarantees for online services and digital products.

But today’s new generation of bloggers and entrepreneurs have discovered that this age-old offline technique can be one of the most powerful routes to more sales.

They know that online buyers are plagued by fears and doubts. And there’s nothing that will kill a sale faster than doubt.

So what makes a good guarantee?

The Teaching Company offers a brilliant example of a guarantee that leads directly to sales.

They sell CDs, DVDs, and digital downloads of prominent professors lecturing on philosophy, physics, economics, astronomy, literature, history, and other academic subjects.

Many of these lectures command a hefty price tag, often reaching as much as several hundred dollars. These aren’t little MP3s with 30 minutes of fluff. They’re lengthy, in-depth lectures from some of the best minds in the country.

One is “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music” by Professor Robert Greenberg of The San Francisco Conservatory of Music. You get 48 lectures at 45 minutes each. That’s 36 hours! The DVD is $699.95. An audio CD is $499.95. The audio download is $349.95. That’s a substantial chunk of change.

I loved the idea of these lectures. Many of them talked about subjects both my wife and I are fascinated by. We could get hours of enjoyment out of them. But still … $500? Was it really worth it?

Then I saw their guarantee:

LIFETIME SATISFACTION GUARANTEE: If you are not completely satisfied with the purchase you have paid for, you may return it with a note describing why you are disappointed and we will issue a full refund or credit your charge card for what you paid for the course or courses.

That guarantee sold me.

I immediately thought,

I have to buy something for myself, maybe ‘The History of Ancient Rome’ or ‘The Great Principles of Science.’ And I can get ‘The History of the United States’ for my wife, the history buff. Where’s my credit card. I gotta order something now!

After all, with a guarantee that strong, the company really must believe that they have the best lectures ever, right? I was absolutely convinced, even before I heard a single word of the audio.

That’s the power of a guarantee.

Reducing perceived risk with a guarantee

Too many people think that selling is about talking people into buying things, as if you can wear people down with an avalanche of words.

You can’t.

You can write all the selling copy you want about how you’re the best, offer great quality, and include lots of great content. However, it’s all for nothing if your potential buyers have any doubts.

Doubt creates hesitation. Hesitation kills sales.

The answer? You have to reduce the perceived risk people feel so there is no hesitation to take you up on your offer.

And that’s the key — risk reduction.

Remember that if you’re selling online, people can’t experience the thing you’re selling before they part with their money. They can’t see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, or smell it. So there’s always a level of uncertainty and risk. A guarantee helps you lower the feeling of risk by answering questions such as “Is it all you say it is? What if it isn’t? Can I return it if I want to? Is there a catch?”

With a guarantee, they feel confident that they won’t be stuck with their purchase. And the very act of offering a strong guarantee lets buyers know you really believe the product is worth its asking price.

But there’s another reason to use a guarantee — ethics.

Thomas Rollins, president of The Teaching Company, said his company values clients so much, he simply doesn’t want them to have any product they don’t absolutely love. In a phone conversation with me, he said, “We call our lectures The Great Courses. If we don’t deliver great courses, we don’t deserve the money.”

Wow! Most people think of customer loyalty as customers being loyal to a business. But how about a business being loyal to customers? This is a recipe for long-term success if I’ve ever seen one. And it all stems from their powerful guarantee.

How to write a risk-eliminating guarantee

A guarantee may be the most important copy you ever write, but it isn’t rocket science. Your guarantee should do four primary things:

  1. Assure your customer that you believe in the quality of your product.
  2. Spell out your terms and conditions clearly.
  3. Specify a generous time period for evaluation.
  4. State what you will do if the customer is dissatisfied.

Here’s the classic guarantee template:

We provide the finest widgets in the world. If you are not fully satisfied for any reason, just return your widget within 60 days for a full refund of your purchase price.

You can be more personal. Or stronger. Or more specific. Just keep it short and sweet.

But what about setting limits?

  • You might have a time limit: “If you’re not satisfied, return within 30 days for a full refund.”
  • You might have usage conditions: “With normal use …” or “When used according to directions …”
  • You might have a liability limit: “Liability limited to the replacement cost of this item.”
  • You might want to specify repair or replacement rather than return: “If it doesn’t work as promised, we’ll repair or replace it free.”

Avoid asterisks or teeny legal type. They just create the suspicion that you are a weasel.

Does a guarantee pose a risk for you?

This is a common misconception. The logic goes like this: “If I guarantee to refund money after someone receives the product, they’ll rip me off.” This is especially scary for people selling digital products.

The truth is, you may will get ripped off by a few people. But in the long run, what you gain from additional sales will far outweigh what you lose from those scant few cheats.

The only time you run a risk is when you offer crappy products. Offer great products, and your “returns” won’t amount to much.

Remember, your potential buyers feel a certain level of risk whenever you offer something to them. A guarantee is your best tool for lowering or eliminating that risk.

If you want more specifics, I just published a detailed post about how to write strong guarantees at Pro Copy Tips.

About the Author: Dean Rieck is one of America’s top direct marketing copywriters who shares his writing and freelancing know-how at Pro Copy Tips.

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Comments

  1. I never understood the ‘guarantee’ world.

    But this post has opened my brains to the ‘guarantee’ world.

    “The truth is, you may will get ripped off by a few people. But in the long run, what you gain from additional sales will far outweigh what you lose from those scant few cheats.”

    This was the eye opener for me. Now I finally understand the purpose of a guarantee. MANY people do not get the above (including me). You have to think BIG in a business, and those words were very BIG indeed.

  2. I didn’t realize how much guarantees impact my own purchasing decisions until I read this article. I do hesitate when it comes to purchases, but a guarantee makes me feel secure in moving forward. The funny thing is, I’ve only returned one product in my entire life.

  3. Hey Dean,

    I’ve purchased a lot of great products online because of the guarantee they provided. In my traditional business I use it all the time. Provides security and that you stand behind your product or service.

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  4. “Does a guarantee pose a risk for you?”

    I think it’s fairly short sighted to broadly say that the gains will outweigh the risks of offering such a guarantee.

    This may be the case assuming a business already has ample sales and traffic, but for start-ups and websites that are struggling to get traffic, let alone sales, this could be a fatal assumption. A guarantee isn’t going to be a make-or-break benefit for most websites, so one couldn’t assume that some flood of new shoppers will appear just because the guarantee exists. This would be like saying using an EV SSL certificate guarantees a positive ROI for any website. Sure, it will probably pay off for someone doing $50K+ per month, but for the struggling site doing a few thousand per month, most likely not.

    The other caveat of such a guarantee is for very expensive products, those that are easily damaged or broken, or those that can never be resold (such as branded software). If you end up selling your $5000 product and it get’s returned, where you are not able to resell it, you just lost a lot of money. Again, for the large site, this tactic may provide a positive ROI, but for the smaller website a single return could do some serious damage.

    My other criticism is “The only time you run a risk is when you offer crappy products. ”

    You don’t need to offer crappy products to suffer from a high return rate. Software is the perfect example of this. Even with the best product descriptions, consumers often purchase the wrong software, or decide they don’t need it. It could be the best software, at the best price, and there’s no way to eliminate returns because of consumer knowledge and buying trends. Add in the non-transferable licenses and a no-hassle guarantee just got really expensive.

    I think that many websites can use and will benefit from a great guarantee like this. Ideally we would all like to shop at and provide a guarantee like this, but I think to say the boost in sales will surpass any potential loses for everyone, is a dangerous assumption.

  5. Wow, Dean! Your post is a terrific reminder that guarantees (especially when well written) can help give that final bit of reassurance to our customers, clients, etc. Thanks so much for the insightful post!

  6. Dean, from a copywriting-for-hire standpoint, wouldn’t it be wise for a copywriter to ask the client seeking their skills to ask what the guarantee for the product is before accepting the job to write copy to sell it? If the guy says, “The product has no guarantee,” wouldn’t that affect whether or not you took the job? Just curious on this.

  7. When I get people who ask for a refund on one of my products – and I issue it without delay – they turn into fans.

    Seriously – I have more testimonials (that I have to find a use for) about my amazing customer service and trustworthiness – than anything else. It’s because people are shocked to be treated fairly.

    Use that to your advantage. Give a guarantee and be proud to stick to it. I was shocked to see what a difference it made to those that the product DIDN’T fit for (some asked what else I offered, could they buy something else from me).

  8. “The answer? You have to reduce the perceived risk people feel so there is no hesitation to take you up on your offer.”

    An excellent point that I definitely see even just in my own spending habits.

    Dean, I am further wondering what you think about shipping costs.

    When ordering online, there is the added perceived risk of shipping cost. Even if an item is guaranteed returnable, if I have to pay for shipping and return shipping, I hesitate.

    So for instance in your example of the lectures, if I opted to get the DVD version shipped to my house, I would be more assured if I also knew shipping fees would be covered. My confidence would be boosted an extra level. Just another thought to consider in reducing perceived risk and costumer loyalty – depending on the type of product and its means of transmission, including shipping costs in your refund guarantee could further reduce hesitation, securing that the costumer is not losing money to ship something they are unsure of.

  9. Great information. You have really read the mind of the customers. A guarantee definitely goes a long way to eliminate doubts in customer’s mind in case of a online purchase. For example I always prefer to buy things from Amazon.com even if sometimes it is a little bit expensive than some other unknown site or even a store, the reason is their reputation and 100% return guarantee. I am always sure that if something goes wrong I am totally covered, although it is very rare I had to return my purchase.

  10. Bob Jenkins :

    How would you devise a guarantee for real estate?

  11. I’m a big fan of the guarantee. I think it’s a “must have” for e-products, which fortunately don’t involve shipping costs and can’t be damaged by the end consumers, as per the concerns raised in some of the other comments.

  12. Thanks for a great article on how to convert your customers with a strong guarantee. Now I think about it, that’s probably why companies like Costco do so well, with their guarantee.

  13. Thanks for sharing this, I’d never realised the importance of this. I thought it would apply for expensive products, but I guess it applies equally to lower priced ones too.

  14. The thing that took me from “oh, nice article” to – “wow, gotta talk to my partner about this and my website person and take some action here” was the piece about how guarantees can remove the last vestige of doubt from the customers mind.

    @Jestep – you raise some interesting points for more discussion, more on the ‘dark side’ of guarantees, which I reckon are worthy of being discussed (by someone who knows more about it than me, which would be just about anybody).

  15. Personally, I don’t buy without a guarantee. If you’re not so confident in your product that you’ll offer me every penny back, that tells me everything I need to know.

    Guarantees, even beyond being a great way to ease buyer fears, show potential buyers that you’ll put your money where your mouth is. It says that you’re selling something you have supreme confidence in.

    I’ve also found it’s best to have an “all-or-nothing” guarantee. This would include lifetime guarantees or guarantees where the customer gets to keep the product and still gets their money back. Those show that you have no fear that they will be disappointed.

  16. The truth is you have to have a quality product with a guarantee. When you have the quality product, you have nothing to worry about with the guarantee. The fact with guarantees is that most people won’t take the initiative to get the money back guarantee even if they end up not being satisfied. It’s the same reason companies give you a rebate that you have to mail in instead of just giving you a lower price. Most people never send in the rebate.

  17. I totally agree with you. Laying down your terms and conditions clearly will attract more people to buy your product/service. Since transparency is the key on getting the trust of other people.

  18. ‘ Guarantee’ is one of the best sales pitch strategies, The author has dealt with the subject in detail. The points under ‘How to write a risk-eliminating guarantee’ were interesting. The final part ‘Does a guarantee pose a risk for you?’, apt way to conclude. If you are confident about the quality of your product, Guarantee really does not pose a risk for you. A very Good Article. Thumbs up!

  19. Choose words carefully for guarantee to be definite that it resonates together with potential customer. We can see from these few points how significant guarantee is in closing the sale. Strong guarantee is a powerful factor in making the final push to persuade our potential customer to buy from us..

  20. Dean,

    The power of the guarantee cannot be stated enough. Since in many situations it is the law that you have to have a return policy of some kind, it would be in the marketer’s best interest to put that baby up front instead of burying it down deep in the copy.

    One great trick for really expensive products is delayed billing. This is how Bowflex and Nordi Trac have made millions. You let the customer try the product out for free and then agree to bill them later if they keep it. Most people don’t want to give the thing back once they get their hot little hands on it.

    This is great for expensive products, but can work with anything.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  21. Hi guys,

    I love guarantees. I usually don’t buy a product without an guarantee, because buying products online is risky. Thanks for sharing.

    Kind regards,
    Sam
    X

  22. What a coincidence I was just trying to decide whether or not to add a satisfaction guaranteed on my website.

  23. Does anyone have any advice on how this would apply to a product that is free? People have doubts about products, even when they are free. How do you allay their fears when you can’t give a guarantee for a free product?

  24. I agree with the article.Most of the people nowadays are scared to death on online purchases sometimes even ‘with’ guarantee. I feel bad because sometimes, people return their product because they are not satisfied and yet haven’t got what was written on the ‘guarantee’ condition.

    I guess being more transparent will make you ahead of others. Stick with your guarantee condition and definitely people will trust you and your product.

  25. Wow, this is clear and concise that a guarantee is needed for a product that is sold.