The importance of creating loyalty is all we're hearing from ecommerce analysts, but that is becoming increasingly difficult in a market dominated by fickle consumers.
Even the promise of free money in the form of shares has not been enough to win over UK consumers in the crowded free ISP market.
This summer themutual.net, Totalise and Blue Carrots all launched share giveaways but didn't all receive the response they expected.
Last week Blue Carrots dramatically changed its usage criteria to allow consumers to receive free shares without having to either use its dialup connection or stay online for 200 minutes a month, as well as previously dropping its £3.50 (GBP) registration fee.
This suggests it is struggling to establish a substantial subscriber base, a claim it denies although it still won't reveal member numbers.
"We have enough subscribers, but we want more," said David Dobson, managing director of Blue Carrots. "That said, it isn't purely a tactic to attracting more subscribers. We are moving away from being purely an ISP to a portal, which is a natural development."
Blue Carrot's rival Totalise, which ahs 30,000 users, is more frank about the level of its success, admitting that the offer of free shares was not the incentive it had hoped for.
"None of the free ISPs have achieved the number of users they thought they would," said Dr Peter Gregory, chairman of Totalise, adding that if all the numbers were added up, it would be three times the world's population.
"We would have liked six figures by now, but the market is a confusion of offers and so it is difficult to get the message across," Gregory said.
Gregory says both Totalise and Blue Carrots made the mistake of basing themselves on the US model where there is a shareholding culture.
"Our advertising campaign got appalling results," said Gregory, who placed ads in the Observer newspaper as well as online campaigns on Yahoo and The Telegraph.
"Free shares is an interesting concept," said Nick Gibson, an analyst with Durlacher. "But it's a complicated area and it all depends on how the shares are structured."
Unlike its rivals, Totalise gives its users real shares which can be traded immediately - 250 for signing up and then an average of 3500 more shares over two years.
Both themutual.net and Blue Carrots issue points, or credits, which can be converted to shares if and when the company floats.
Blue Carrots stipulates the portal must be visited once a week; if the user doesn't, then they loose their share rights. This seems unfair to Gregory, who explained that Totalise subscribers just go to the back of the queue for the next batch of shares if they don't use the service for a while.
Winners and losers
Analysts were sceptical when the share giveaway was first introduced - the phrase "no free lunch" was heard more than once. Three months later, and the view is still that it's not a long term proposition.
"There is such a low barrier to entry that anyone with a bright idea can set up as an ISP. The big companies will win, those that move their business to support unmetered access," said Noah Yasskin, an analyst with Jupiter Communications.
"Totalise was well funded from the outset and so had no problem with lack of users. The money from call charges is just icing on the cake," responded Gregory.
Yasskin however insists that no amount of hype or gimmicks will create a substantial subscriber base if the company lacks resources.
"Getting subscriptions is more to do with marketing and distribution than how innovative an ISP or the technology is. There are too many ISPs - but there won't be that many left in the end.
"The window of opportunity for subscription-free services has passed, and only the ones that move to offer some kind of package with unmetered access will survive in the long term," he said.
Yasskin believes Freeserve and AOL will be among the survivors, but only if they move beyond focusing on "customer acquisition and retention to establish valuable customer relationships."
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