There are four toll free area codes, 800, 888, 877 & 866. Technically they all work the same. However in terms of their marketing image and results for the advertisers, there are obviously some differences.
The simple explanation is that 800 is essentially .com, 888 is .net and 866 and 877 are like .info, .biz or country codes. They all technically work the same, but from a marketing standpoint 800 is the king. 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, just the “brand name” value. It’s the industry default that the one the biggest advertisers use.
888 is understood and is has some uniquenes to it. There’s no 777 or 999 and it’s able to be remembered as one string. For all but the largest advertisers or the ones that rely heavily on credibility, it’s often an acceptable alternative, just like the .net in domain names.
866 & 877 are like .info or .biz in that even though they technically work the same, they give a smaller home based or newer type of image. They look more like regular area codes and you definitely have to reinforce that they’re toll free. You may also lose some callers who think toll free and wind up calling the 800 version.
“800″ is the original toll free area code and has had billions of dollars in advertising and become so wide spread and accepted that the term “800 numbers” is basically a generic term for all area codes of toll free numbers. By the way, that’s also why 800 is the only area code we usually put a 1 in front of.
888 numbers were introduced in 1996 after several months of rationing. 888 is intrinsically good and memorable 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 functions exactly as 800 and 888 numbers do, and although they work exactly the same, as “800″ and “888″ numbers, they don’t have the same marketing power. First of all, 877 and 866 look like any other new area codes and have no intrinsic numerical significance or memorability. Secondly, they don’t 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’t had the volume of public use that 888 had, even at the same stage in it’s life. Additional area codes such as 866 have also added to the confusion.
866 and 877 have their place, but that’s generally more for personal non-business or smaller 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 country code domain name. They may technically function the same as .com, but they don’t generate the same results in marketing. The same is true with 800 numbers.
800 is the .com. It’s the default and 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.
You also have to realize that you have to not only know what you want, but you also have to take what you can get too. The more advertising you do, the more you need a better number, and the less advertising you do, the less you need a “brand name” 800 number. If you’re small and just starting out, you already know you can’t afford the best of everything, and that’s probably true with your toll free number too.