NEW YORK – Much like .com domain names, 1-800 toll free phone numbers with meaning in their letters such as 1-800-FLOWERS, are hard to come by these days – or even impossible to obtain, based on limited supply. Although it is indeed possible to get a 1-800 phone number today, if you’re looking for a vanity number, such as one with clear meaning in its letters, you’re much more likely to get it using an alternative such as 888.
This is very much what we are seeing today with Internet domain names. Toll free phone numbers such as “800” which are the “original” or “premium” can be compared to the “.com” version of a domain name. When a business does not use the .com domain name, that business risks higher marketing costs, diluted memorability and worst of all, potential loss of customers. Again, this is the exact same thing we see with the 800 prefix. However, based on the limited supply of 800 numbers, businesses have little to no-choice but to settle for an alternative.
Let’s examine a timeline of toll-free-number use.
- 1967 – Toll-free 800 numbers were introduced.
- 1986 – Vanity 800 numbers began being used.
- 1996 – Toll-free 888 numbers were introduced.
- 1998 – Toll-free 877 numbers were introduced.
- 2000 – Toll-free 866 numbers were introduced.
- 2010 – Toll-free 855 numbers were introduced.
- 2013 – Toll-free 844 numbers were introduced.
- 2017 – Toll-free 833 numbers were introduced.
I think most would agree that while looking at the above toll free timeline, which spans over fifty-years, with each new release comes a less and less desirable alternative, based on familiarity. To me, “800” is the premium .com, while “888” and “877” are similar to the .net and .org, ‘popular alternatives’, and as you go down the line, you get weaker and weaker in desirability, such as with .info or .biz domain names.
For example, 833 is, in my opinion, the least desirable choice as it is what I would expect to be the least known variation for a toll free line, as it just came out and nearly no-one should know about it, much like nGTLDs. I would only order or use an 833 number if I had absolutely no other choice.
Will people use and/or choose alternative domain names like they do toll free phone numbers?
Historical data may be imperfect, but it remains the only unbiased way to measure risk and make assumptions. Although people will choose to use alternatives when they are needed, it will likely take many years for wide-adoption and likely never be considered the premium choice.
Alternatives may always be just that – alternatives, psychologically, just like (800) is over fifty years later.