18 July 2005

Rethinking Refunding



The issue of refunds has been on my mind over the last few weeks.

For the new version of Travel Lists (which we launched at the beginning of June) I came up with what I thought was a bold, clear and admirably independent way of charging companies who want to be listed in Travel Lists: charge less the other directories but make it a non-refundable review fee.

That would cut out any time-wasters and, as we put it on the 'addurl' page, enable us to "be selective without commercial pressure" remaining an "edited directory as opposed to an electronic advertising billboard".

It sounds good in theory but I've been feeling less convinced as the first few weeks have gone by. My main concern is that I just don't feel very comfortable about rejecting somebody, and taking their money too. (it's only happened twice so far)

The deal is clear enough, it's a non-refundable fee. You submit on that basis. But it seems a bit insulting - or put another way - I've thinking that I'd feel a whole lot more assured if I was able to say "sorry, you can't get in but here's your money back. You haven't lost anything by trying".

I had thought that visitors to the site would be reassured of its independence by such a policy on submissions, but most are probably unaware of the non-refund policy. So why couldn't it be a pay-only-if-accepted system, with the associated 'commercial pressure' (to accept) if ultimately I am the guardian of editorial standards and able to ruthlessly exercise those standards?

Two occurrences have caused me to give it more thought over the weekend.

The week before last I rejected a submission by a national airline to be included in the Budget Airline list. (They really didn't match the criteria for a budget airline, and I felt vindicated a few days later when a Reuters article in its very first line went out its way to describe them as a 'full-fare airline'.) They asked if they could have their money back, but didn't complain when I reminded them this wasn't the deal.

Then somebody phoned at the end of this week to enquire about getting onto the Spa Tour Operators list. I tried to keep my editorial distance while at the same time wanting to see if their company was a likely candidate, so I could advise them whether or not to spend their money. It seemed like an interesting company. I found myself giving off confusing signals because I was both interested to find out if they might be a good addition to the directory, and stand-offish because I wanted them to pay.

It makes me wonder if the overall sales message is just too confusing - e.g. If the directory is mostly compiled pro-actively, why do we charge? - and the non-refund policy just adds to the confusion.

I'll give it some more thought, but if I decide to change the refund policy it'll be quick to happen.

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