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Information about Toll Free 800 Service

Your phone number is your front door for new business and a good personalized number gives you an attractive and easy to find door that helps bring in more business! You've heard the adage, "Location, Location, Location!" Well, if you do business over the phone, your phone number is your location and a good number will increase your response and sales for the life of your business.


What is a Toll Free Number?
How do toll-free numbers work?
Why are Toll Free Numbers so popular?
Benefits of toll free numbers for small businesses
Brief History of Toll Free Numbers
Some facts about toll free numbers

Why have we run out of "800" Numbers?
What is a Vanity Number?
Why use a Vanity Number?
How are vanity numbers obtained and what do they cost?
Vanity Number Assumption?
Do vanity numbers really improve your results in advertising?
Memorable or easier to dial numbers
Local Numbers vs. Toll Free Numbers
What makes a Mega-Number?
The difference between Direct Response and Spontaneous Recall
Toll Free Fraud
How do you calculate the value of a Vanity Number?
The future of toll free vanity numbers



What is a Toll Free Number?

This probably seems a little basic, but a toll free number is a telephone number that can be called at no cost to the caller, because the recipient pays for the cost of the call. Also referred to as ?00?numbers after the original area code, although toll free numbers today can start with the area codes, 800, 888, 877, and 866. The area codes 855, 844, 833, and 822 have also been reserved for toll free activation in the future if and when necessary.

How do toll-free numbers work?

A toll free number just forwards to or or redirects to a regular local number. No special equipment or additional line or installation is required. When a call is placed to a toll free number, the Local Exchange Company (LEC) queries the SMS800 Database to determine the inter-exchange carrier (long distance company) responsible for carrying the call. The inter-exchange carrier then picks up the call, applies the appropriate features or routing, creates a call record for billing, and routes the call to the terminating number, trunk ID or circuit ID to which the toll free number is programmed to ring to. This entire process takes milliseconds and is virtually transparent to the caller.

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Why are Toll Free Numbers so popular?

Consumers like them because they're free to call. Advertisers like them because customers are more likely to call. Companies also like them because they are portable and they create a more national presence and they have additional capabilities in terms of reporting and routing that local numbers don't have. Another major reason for their popularity is that they have dropped so dramatically in price and ease of use. When they were first introduced they were expensive and hard to get. But now they are so cheap and simple to set up that even the smallest part time business or residential user, almost can't afford not to use one.

Benefits of toll free numbers for small businesses

Portability - One of the most important benefits of toll free numbers for small businesses is the ability to change the ring to number, called portability. If you move your business or your needs change, it's easy to change the ring to number, usually by just calling your carrier at no cost. To bad you can't move your whole business around that easy...
Larger company image - Toll free numbers create a larger more significant corporate image, even for the smallest home based business.
Expanded marketing reach - A local number is ok if you only market locally (see Local Vanity Numbers). But if you want to market outside your local area, a toll free number is practically a necessity for business in the US.
Scalability - Another benefit for smaller start up businesses is that you basically just pay for the usage or calls to your toll free number. This means that a new or small business with little usage will pay very little for their service and their bills will only increase as their usage and business increases. Too bad all of your business expenses don't work like that!

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Brief History of Toll Free Numbers

1-800 numbers were developed in the late 60s by AT&T as a convenient way for businesses to pay the tolls for their customers who contacted them. (Remember when everyone thought long distance was so expensive?) As the service became more popular, toll free subscribers began finding new and innovative uses for the service. As usages and popularity began to grow companies began to realize that consumers preferred to do business with companies with 800 numbers.
By 1984, when the Bell System was dismantled by the Justice Department, there were over 3 million 800 numbers in service by AT&T, and new long distance carriers were clamoring to provide 800 service. These carriers were assigned blocks of 800 numbers with common NXX (prefixes), so the phone numbers available depended on the carrier you spoke to and if you left your carrier, you would have to change your 800 number. The numbers weren't portable.

One of the steps in creating a more competitive toll free market, was to implement the current SMS/800 system which allowed true portability of 800 numbers so you could change phone companies without having to change your number. This gave toll free number subscribers much more ownership rights and made the popularity and value of good 800 numbers sky rocket, so much so that within 18 months of the introduction of number portability, very few of the 7 million 800 numbers were left for new subscribers.

Then after rationing 800 numbers, the telecommunications industry chose 888 as the next toll free area code, introducing another 8 million new numbers to the toll free pool (less a couple hundred 888 numbers that were held out of the pool at the request of the 800 owner). 888 numbers have been in use now for several years and are fairly well accepted and understood by a large part of the country as equivalent to 800 numbers. But as 888 numbers began to dwindle, 877 and later 866 area codes were introduced as well. 855, 844, 833 and 822 are also reserved for toll free use as they are required.

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Some facts about toll free numbers:

90% of Americans say they use toll free numbers.
More than one-third of Americans estimate that they make 60 or more toll free calls per year.

Demand for new toll free 888 numbers for business and personal uses averaged above 238,000 requests per month, since introduction of the 888 code on March 1, 1996. That's in excess of 2,800,000 new 888 numbers per year. This led to the creation of 877 numbers.

Toll free calling generates an estimated $157 billion in annual sales of goods and services in 1997.

In addition, experts say that 84% of current Internet users rely on electronic media to search for product or service information in order to make a purchase. Being able to locate the 800 number on the Internet greatly improves the success rate of any Internet ad or Web site.
The average phone order from a catalog can be 30% to 70% higher than the average mail order.

As telephone buyers generally use credit cards, they will order more merchandise and higher ticket items 95% of the time.

A productive ad featuring an 800 number can generate approximately 30% more orders.

In a study, paper ads that were almost identical were displayed and monitored. One group had an 800 toll-free number and the others didn't. The toll-free number ads received six times the number of calls as did the regular long-distance listings. It also seems that this will hold true regardless of the socioeconomic level of the caller.
If you want to decrease returns by as much as 50%, use an 800/888 number on product literature. This encourages customers to call in and resolve difficulties with a trained expert.

Fund-raising organizations have increased their response approximately 25% by adding that 800/888 number in commercials, print ads or direct mail pieces which previously used only addresses. That抯 the difference between 800, 888, 877 and 866
800 numbers are the original area code and have been so wide spread and accepted that "800 numbers" is basically a generic term for toll free numbers. And 800, or 1-800 is more than just a toll free area code but it's a brand name. That's the real difference between 800 and 888 at this point.

888 numbers were introduced in 1996 after several months of rationing. 888 is intrinsically a good and memorable number and has some uniqueness since there is no 777 or 999 area code. There has also been a fair amount of use, particularly with companies that couldn't get a good 800 number because of the way they were issued. So although the biggest companies still tend to use 800, 888s are extremely popular and recognized as toll free.

877 was introduced in 1998, and 866 numbers were later added in 1999. They function exactly the same as 800 and 888 numbers, but they will never catch up to 888 for two reasons. First of all, 877 and 866 look like any other new area code and have no intrinsic numerical significance or memorability. Secondly, they don抰 have the same amount of public use. Both 877 and 866 had only a fraction of the promotion that 888's did at their introduction and they simply haven抰 had the volume of public use that 888 had, even at the same stage in it抯 life. Additional area codes such as 866 have also added to the confusion.

Before 888 numbers were introduced, 800 numbers were rationed for several months. There was also a lot of pent up demand for vanity numbers that weren抰 available in 800. All of these factors helped 888 numbers but were not true of 877 or 866 numbers. And in fact, many of the reasons for wanting a vanity number in the first place, prestige, credibility, memorability, and it抯 recognition as toll free are reasons against 877 and 866.

866 and 877 have their place, but that's generally only for personal non-business uses because they get fewer wrong numbers. If the calls are revenue generating and you are spending money in advertising to generate the calls, 866 or 877 numbers will cost you money. Just as it is harder to build a brand name around a .cc domain name. They may technically function the same as .com, but they don't generate the same results in marketing.

800 is the .com. It's the default prefix. The one that the big money and fortune 500 companies have used and will continue to use. 888 is the equivalent of .net. It has some uniqueness and is somewhat memorable. It's seen and understood by most as an alternative. The main difference between .com and .net is the brand name, and the same is true for 800 and 888. You'll still lose some calls to the 800 version, especially for applications which involve spontaneous recall or require the caller to dial from memory but at least it gives you an alternative. That doesn't mean though, that if you can't get the first 800 you wanted, that your second choice should automatically be the 888 version of this number.

If you're a small start up and you're not spending a lot of money in your advertising, you have to be realistic and may have to make do. It would be silly to insist that someone in Florida or Georgia needs a powerful snow blower if they hardly ever get much snow. But if you lived in Buffalo or Vermont, and you were getting a lot of snow (meaning you're doing a lot of advertising) it would be stupid not to get a good snow blower. If you're doing serious advertising, you need a serious "800" number that will help increase the response rates to all your advertising.

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Why have we run out of "800" Numbers?

Their popularity and value are obvious and have made 800 numbers an absolute necessity in business. That combined with the limited availability caused a run on them in 1995 when they were rationed until 888 numbers were released. Additional toll free area codes 877 and 866 have also been released since then because of the continued demand for toll free numbers. So the "800" area code has essentially been used up a couple times over. Add to that the fact that some adult phone services have become proficient at sucking up every 800 number the instant they are returned to the pool in order to make money from the wrong numbers.

These businesses have literally hundreds of thousands of 800 numbers, and in order to avoid being accused of hoarding and brokering, they basically never sell or release any numbers for anyone at any price. Finally, many phone companies don't follow the guidelines and quietly tuck any real "800" numbers and keep them for themselves or their biggest customers. All of these things make it virtually impossible to get real "800" numbers from any phone company any more.

What is a Vanity Number?

Our telephone keypad has letters as well as numbers. And although most of us refer mostly to the numbers when dialing, vanity phone numbers are 憂umbers?whose letter equivalent also happen to spell something. They are not treated any differently by the phone company, or in the way they work, but this mnemonic spelling helps to make a phone number more memorable or easier to recall and in many cases also helps to describe or identify its use.
A good vanity number can have a tremendous impact on your business and can literally be worth millions of dollars to your business. And the best part is that a powerful vanity number doesn抰 cost any more than a standard one, which isn抰 much. (See Finding your own vanity number)

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Why use a Vanity Number?

Because they are much more memorable and attract more attention, two huge benefits of advertising. This increased memorability or recognition is extremely valuable in marketing. They increase the effectiveness of nearly all forms of advertising and can be invaluable in terms of branding. Toll Free numbers are often used as vanity numbers because of their portability, and their nationwide appeal to the consumer. A good toll free vanity number will provide several great benefits to any business:

桰ncreased retention/memorability
桝ttracts more attention
桰ncreased credibility and prestige
梇our phone number becomes part of your message
桹ver the phone sales increase
桟reates a larger, more customer focused image
桾akes less time/space in your advertising and/or allows you to repeat your message more often

How are vanity numbers obtained and what do they cost?

The standard way to find a vanity number is to submit a request to a Resporg (the technical term for phone companies with access to the national SMS800 database). You talk to and submit your request to a phone company rep, who sends that request internally to their Resporg Department who checks and returns the results to the rep who gets back to the end customer. If one carrier cannot provide a certain vanity number, other carriers won't be able to either.

This is often a long and difficult process given the lack of availability and explains the phone company's desire to push customers to 866 or 877 alternatives. Our Vanity Number Lookup searches the same national SMS database and therefore has equally limited availability but speeds up greatly the process of checking and searching and makes it infinitely easier to check for and come up with a good toll free number. (see the LOOKUP section for more information on our unique Vanity Number Lookup)

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Vanity Number Assumption?

Many of your customers may already assume that your company has a toll-free number and guess or assume that it matches your name. My number 1-800 MARKETER also translates to 1-800 MARKET DAY. I consistently get calls from customers looking for this company, guessing this was their number. Another company recently found that only 2% of their customers knew their correct number, while another 4% guessed that it was 1-800 followed by the company name. This is especially true for companies who's competitors use vanity numbers.

One company was surprised to find that one of their automated payment numbers had a huge number of hang ups and found that it spelled a national satellite companies name and that it was getting over 2,500 calls per month. How many lost sales do you think that would that translate to?

The same concept holds true for good category vanity numbers. Consumers in the market for a particular product or service will often guess or assume that a marketer of that product or service can be reached by calling 1-800 plus the product/service name. 1-800 CONTACTS is a great example of this. In the November 29th 2000 issue of USA Today, Jonathan Coon, CEO of 1-800 CONTACTS stated that they automatically received 2000 new calls per month when they obtained and activated 1-800 CONTACTS which in turn generated $38,000 in additional sales. Before being obtained by Jonathan Coon's company, 1-800 266-8228 was not published and when called, went unanswered.

Consumers wanting to purchase contact lens were guessing that a company that sells contact lenses would answer the number! This is what makes category numbers so valuable and at the same time, so difficult and expensive to obtain.
What should the number spell?
Marketer's name, product, industry, slogan, benefit, feature or claim, clever word or phrase.


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Do vanity numbers really improve your results in advertising?

Case studies....
Can I use more than 7 digits?
Phone numbers have 7 digits, so you obviously can抰 do less than 7 digits. 7 digits may be the ideal number of digits, but there is certainly no limit to only seven digits. In the past, before the public understood that 1-800 MATTRESS was a phone number. It may have been helpful for them to say, leave off the last S for savings at one time but that抯 no longer a concern since everyone realizes what a vanity number is. The only exception is that if callers dial 8 digits on their cell phone it may not go through. And if you have a Z near the end of your name or a part of your name that抯 difficult to spell it may be a good idea to push that off the end of the vanity number. But in general, there is absolutely no reason to limit yourself to only seven digits. Some clients try to do that, but end up overly limiting their options. My number 1-800 MARKETER is 8, but nobody ever has any problem.

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Memorable or easier to dial numbers

It comes down to whether it is more important to make your phone number easier to remember or easier to dial. Easy to dial numbers certainly have their place and some value, especially when the numbers can have some special significance. But memorability is almost always more important and more valuable than ease of dialing. Many people often refer to a numeric number such as 1-800 221-2121 as being easy to remember because it seems like it would be. But you have to ask yourself one simple question. How many numeric numbers can you remember off the top of your head, including what they're used for. Most people are lucky if they can remember one and that's usually only one that they call repeatedly. Numeric numbers really are NOT more memorable. Numeric numbers are also much more interchangeable. That could be a good thing if you have a call center, but it also means that any nice number is as good as any other, and depending on your definition of a nice number there are literally 10s of thousands of possible numbers. And since they are also visible or recognizable to the phone companies, they are more difficult to get. Numeric numbers may be alright in some applications but they are clearly no where near as valuable in marketing as good vanity numbers.

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Local Numbers vs. Toll Free Numbers

Local numbers such as 201-EXTRA CHEESE or 201-TAKE OUT can be used as vanity numbers as well. They are particularly appropriate for some businesses which want to maintain a real local feel, and for which the toll free equivalents are completely unavailable. Toll free numbers however, have several advantages over local numbers for most businesses. They are portable and can move with you if you relocate and can save you from the expense of area code splits. Nearly all exchanges are active and available from anywhere, unlike local numbers which only give you a limited selection of exchanges for each area. Toll Free numbers have a good customer oriented image since they are toll free and 1-800 is really more than an area code. It抯 a powerful brand name.

That isn抰 to say that local numbers don抰 have their place. Local numbers will be an increasingly attractive alternative as the price of long distance calls continues to decline toward a fixed monthly rate for unlimited calls. So, although 1-800 will be a powerful brand name for a long time, essentially the need for toll free numbers drops as the price of calls decreases. Local numbers are also extremely well suited for information intensive or content rich services and businesses that are intrinsically local.

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What makes a Mega-Number?

There are a lot of valuable vanity numbers, but some numbers and businesses seem to rise above the crowd to become true 憁ega?numbers like 1-800 FLOWERS or 1-800 COLLECT. These numbers don抰 just make successful businesses, but they change an entire industry. It takes more than just a real prime vanity number to do this. It obviously takes a successful and powerful business behind the number and it takes a lot of powerful advertising to build a national brand name. But it also takes a large consumer market with what I call "Spontaneous Recall." (see below) Most 800 numbers are used in direct response and nearly all vanity numbers are valuable, but with the combination of these things, you have the raw potential to create a true industry leader.

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The difference between Direct Response and Spontaneous Recall

Direct response is designed to illicit an immediate or direct response from an advertisement, where as Spontaneous Recall is designed to get the consumer to spontaneously respond or recall the company when the need arises. Most commercials with 800 numbers are direct response, so they want you to be able to remember the phone number long enough to call it. But did you ever see a commercial for 1-800 COLLECT and say to yourself, "Hey, I could really use a collect call." Of course not. But now when you need to make a collect call, you can抰 help but think of 1-800 COLLECT. That抯 Spontaneous Recall. It takes a lot of time and effort to get to that point, but that creates the multi-million dollar industry leading "Mega Number."

Toll Free Fraud

One quick tip, if you are looking for the owner of a number because of any type of fraud, go to Consumer Sentinel (http://www.consumer.gov/sentinel/) to file complaints that go to clearing house for all US government agencies.
How does the Internet relate to and effect Vanity phone numbers?

The internet isn抰 going to replace the telephone any more than the TV replaced the radio or the fax machine replace the mail. They are both important doorways to new business and customers for nearly every business and when combined properly they create an extremely powerful marketing package.

The consumer value of a vanity domain name is multiplied with the corresponding 800 number and vice versa. Could Price line have started without both the telephone number or the domain name? Ultimately even Internet businesses need a good toll free number and toll free vanity businesses need a domain name. So, good toll free numbers will be in demand and valuable business assets for some time to come. (see Future of Toll Free Vanity Numbers below)

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How do you calculate the value of a Vanity Number?

The simplest way to calculate the value of a vanity number to your business is to multiply the percentage of increased response by the amount of advertising you do. The more you are advertising, the more valuable your vanity number becomes. However, that doesn抰 take into account the value a vanity number may have to a small business in credibility and prestige or the value of the name as a brand.

There are also two other ways to calculate the value of a vanity number for transaction purposes. One would be the cost of giving up a number, which includes the cost of reprinting materials, notifying customers, etc. The other way, would be the market value approach, citing other transactions.

This is not easy to do since most transactions are confidential and not public. One other important item about transactions is that in most cases getting a good alternative number is important to minimize the cost of the giving up the number to the seller. This is especially true of larger companies and in some cases it is possible to get them to trade up to a better number for them while getting them to release the number that you want.

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The future of toll free vanity numbers

One very powerful trend that will definitely effect toll free numbers is the decreasing costs of long distance. It's basically a foregone conclusion that long distance calls will be virtually free in the near future. They will be a fixed monthly rate like your internet service (and may be included with your internet service) for free unlimited long distance calls. That isn't going to happen in the next century but I believe it will happen around the middle of the next decades.

The consumer's reluctance to make long distance calls is already dropping dramatically and will continue to drop until it totally disappears. That won't immediately eliminate the need for toll free numbers, since good 1-800 numbers will always be a powerful brand name, but all I can say is that they may open up 866 or even 855 but I don't think they'll get to 822 before free long distance calling hits and eliminates the need for most toll free. Things are changing faster and faster, but that creates bigger and bigger opportunities for those able to see them and be in the right place at the right time.

You may look at the successful vanity number businesses and figure that the best numbers and businesses have already been done. Well I have good news for you. The biggest vanity number businesses haven抰 even been built yet (but I抦 working on correcting that). This is an exciting time for an entrepreneur. Be creative, and there is more huge potential than anyone realizes in this area.

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