Google Apps, Microsoft’s Outlook.com and many other smaller providers used to offer free business email accounts. This lured a lot of people into moving their business mail to these giant corporations. However, when these giants withdrew these free services around 2012 to 2014, there was a mass exodus of users to the regular paid email services. Although users who had signed up prior to the free account withdrawal were “grandfathered” in and allowed to continue using their accounts, there were very few upgrade options for them. This article deals with why most of the free business email services did not find it lucrative to continue their services at no cost.
One of the most important concern for free email users was tech support. When you do take an email service for your business, when your business expands and the Proprietor is not the same as the IT Chief, then you know that you have outgrown the free services. The paid services of most of these providers was prohibitively expensive for most types of businesses. People expected a lot of support and assistance in managing and setting up their account. This is something that Google and Microsoft lacked. Although they did appoint authorized service providers to help local businesses, the continuous support requirement was getting overwhelming. This meant that for a free service, these companies would need to hire support personnel, without getting any direct returns. We must remember that companies like Google and Microsoft did not aim to make money from their mailing services. Their aim was to make money from profiling users for advertising revenue. Microsoft’s story is similar. Hence there was no intent to put back the money in giving any more than their standard free features.
Going hand in hand with support are the configuration issues that people used to face. Almost every user at some point in time will need to configure or sync or connect their account with some hardware device of theirs. Whether its a mobile phone or desktop or laptop, this was inevitable and should have been foreseen. However, Google Apps and Microsoft lacked the basic support infrastructure that paid email providers were offering. Hence, even though their service was free, their support partners charged money and made up for the free service. This money did not benefit Google or Microsoft and hence did not help them in any way. There was no direct incentive for offering free email services, especially when people required extensive support when setting up their account.
Google Apps for business is priced at $50 per user per year, whereas Microsoft charges $48 per user per year at the minimum. When you realize that they also offer a free email service till today, you feel cheated. In effect you feel that you are actually paying for something which is being given out for free. What most people don’t realise is that the free accounts come without any support or without any assistance. But nobody wants to pay just for the additional support. Although the companies are justified in their pricing, they are not able to match competition, due to the simple fact that they have large expenses. Just like all other branded products, business email from these large corporations also costs more, without any visual value addition.
A big put off for people who used services like Google Apps and Outlook.com was that they wanted a one stop solution which included their website hosting, file storage and email. While Google Apps offered business email, it left a big void as far as web hosting was concerned. Google did offer alternatives like Google Sites, but the options left a lot to be desired. Almost all the business email options offer their own website editor with a limited number of templates. Beyond that no customizations can be made. The same was the case for Microsoft’s Outlook and Office 360 service. This is one of the main factors why people prefer conventional web hosting, even if they have a free option.