Lifetime Deals and Shelfware are Burning a Hole in Our Pockets and Here’s Why

Discover the addictive world of lifetime deals and SaaS subscriptions and the dangers of shelfware. Learn why entrepreneurs can't resist investing in lifetime deals and how to make the most of them.

Man wearing shirt and tie, eating a donut, with the jam spilled on his tie. He looks anxious or worried.

Courtesy of

American poet and essayist Criss Jami says, “An over-indulgence of anything, even something as pure as water, can intoxicate.” When you become enslaved to a habit, an addiction forms. (click to tweet) The world of tech isn’t immune.

Many entrepreneurs the world over scramble when they hear of a new SaaS (Service as a Software) launch. Innovators and early adopters jump at the chance to be on beta lists and claim review rights as affiliates. We lurch haphazardly like drunken magpies desperate to possess the new shiny tools ahead of our competitors. (click to tweet) Some of us are hedging our bets on the next big success, some are thinking of pure functionally, wanting to piece together kit to make our lives easier and others are savings-savvy, realising that beyond the Lifetime Deal (LTD) a hefty recurring monthly payment is sure to follow.

As life-changing Speaker, bestselling Author, and Behavioural Scientist Dr Steve Maraboli puts it, “Intent reveals desire. Action reveals commitment.” By investing in our entrepreneurial plans we are reaffirming belief in ourselves and in the future of our businesses. Who hasn’t built things as you want them to be rather than who you are? (click to tweet)

There’s an obsessive compulsive streak which reveals itself in the forums and private Facebook groups. Long post listings of who has hoarded what, who stacked codes and who has been visionary enough to see how the tech could all interlink and intertwine — one day. Sneak peeks and heads-ups with preferential rates, coupons, OTO (One Time Offer) upsells and lifetime membership options are compared, contrasted and generally sell out.

Austin-based Appsumo normally run two deals per week. They started in 2011 and estimate they’ve saved their members over half a billion US dollars so far.

Allegedly there are 57 million freelancers in America and 2 million in the UK and around 12,000 SaaS companies worldwide. Plenty of potential customers then. Entrepreneurs are driven. They think in terms of connectivity, saving time, money or resources. They are by their very nature, innovative — connecting things together in a different way to produce something new.

Tracey Lee Lorenson, Lawyer and Entrepreneur runs the Facebook group “Lifetime Tech Deal Fans” and says some of the strangest behaviour around lifetime deals is that no matter what the deal offers, people will always focus on what they don’t get. Someone may have a mailing list of 100 for example, but complain because the deal is capped at 10,000 per month. Tracey says it’s a real “what am I not getting here?” concern.

“We’ve had amazing lifetime deals in the group, and some companies have been willing to remove all their branding so members can sell it as their own. In others that’s not an option and people get quite worked up. Some people seem to expect companies to give away their technology in order to help us as entrepreneurs build our business, yet we wouldn’t give our intellectual property to others to sell with no branding for the equivalent of two dollars a month.” Tracey reflects.

Another odd aspect is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and the timeframe in which people buy their deals. Tracey estimates 30–40% of members in the group will wait until the final day of a deal to make their purchase, sometimes adding to cart in the last ten minutes, even with 30–60 day return policies.

What we don’t talk about, unless it’s in a jovial meme-style or self-deprecating fashion, is shelfware. The downward trip of intoxication can be several products which remain unused. The term was used by Silver and Marin in their 1994 book “Software Use and Disuse” but it remains unclear who coined the phrase.

Paul continues, “Before you know it, you’re sitting on a pile of shelfware and some of it, if not most is dead!”.

Tracey started her 5500+ Facebook member group in September 2016 after a lifetime deal she’d purchased went south. “There was no place for customers to have discussions,” Tracey said, “…it was all under the companies’ umbrellas and they were controlling those messages. Aggregating our voices has been very powerful. We have way better information on product purchases as a result of Facebook groups like ours. (click to tweet) People can share feedback back and forth. Our group also offers a real advantage to SaaS companies because they get a great businesslike customer base without being widely viewed as a $49 for life product.”

Labelling products you don’t intend to implement right away as shelfware is harmful, Tracey cautions. “If it’s a product you didn’t need in the first place you’ve got to be careful about calling it shelfware. In a group like ours, people should be able to make an informed choice about whether they need things. I’d define shelfware as deals which have been abandoned by their founders.(click to tweet)

Paul Landa’s view is that “lifetime deals are like the free toys on a magazine, they look great at a distance. Some fall to pieces, the odd one is great but then the others get put in the big box collecting dust to eventually be thrown out.”

In theory, tech companies shouldn’t mind if you stack deals and don’t use them. They just gained your moolah without added strain on their systems, but in reality, if you don’t use the tools, you won’t see results. Investment with no engagement can lead to a dull product life cycle.

With little or no interaction, the softer definition of shelfware (not using it) can be the circuit breaker for tech success. (click to tweet)

Part of the trade off with startup tech offers can be that the offers aren’t full-grown. The roadmap is bulging — but the pay off is you get a say in what’s on the cards — shaping what you need. Companies are keen to hear their customers’ feedback as they develop. Shelfware blunts that edge and creators can lose critical market intelligence.

Globally, SaaS is predicted to reach 99.7 billion dollars in revenue by 2020. We can expect even more tools to tempt us into the future.
(click to tweet)

Perhaps ultimately the bottom line is if you’re thinking like a business and planning for the future, to build your empire and make your life easier, then the occasional purchase error resulting in shelfware is both inevitable and forgivable. (click to tweet)

Originally published 24 May 2018 by SocialSongbird.