Comment: Was PC World's free laptop just a publicity stunt?

Yesterday's move by PC world to quietly end its offering of a free laptop abruptly clearly shows that the company was either completely taken by surprise as to the success of the offer or never intended to run it any longer than necessary once the publicity had been gained.

While both Orange and PC World would like to say that it's due to huge popular demand, I believe that the whole thing was more likely a short-term publicity stunt to get some headlines for a broadband service that has come bottom in UK customer satisfaction charts now for the second year in a row.

Like Alta Vista and its Free Internet access claim in the late-90s, perhaps the scheme was never meant to run that long anyway.

I mean, giving away a free PC must be a costly business no matter who you are buying them from, and to give them away to entice customers a risky scheme.

Hey, don't get me wrong, buying customer loyalty is a known business practice, everyone from Sky and its M&S vouchers when you sign up a friend to the entire mobile phone industry does it, and it makes sense.

Give something away for free and then reap the return on the extras such as print cartridges, data packages or an annual subscription.

Following this ideaology, it makes sense for more companies to go down this route.

Getting a laptop for free and then tying you in to a contract for 12 to 18 months is only the same as getting the latest mobile phone and doing the same thing.

For the games industry you could tie it to games sales. Buy 12 games across the year and you get the hardware for free.

Can you imagine the publicity and uptake if Sony announced tomorrow that the PS3 was free? All you had to do was say that you would buy a set amount of games (that you are probably going to buy anyway) over the next year. I would say yes to that.

The trouble with laptops is that there isn't really anything that you need to help operators and company's run up those bills on a monthly basis. A new webcam or software package isn't going to cut it and we don't really care about a recovery service, do we?

No music downloads, no SMS message charges, and no data packages even if you are on a broadband offering, making this an expensive customer bounty.

At the time rivals AOL quickly responded the promotion by offering a very similar deal in conjunction with the Carphone Warehouse but with a slightly better specced laptop, it will be interesting to see if they follow suit in shutting the offer down. It has always said that it was a limited offer, but how limited?

However, given that everyone likes something for free, it's understandable that we will see more deals like this in the future with companies trying to entice users in to spend more.

As for Orange and PC World, I personally think they've missed the trick, but can see that without a way of getting its money back over the period of a year, why the scheme was canned.

If you were lucky enough to get in on the deal good stuff, if you weren't, don't worry there is sure to be another offer from someone else around the corner in no time at all.