Over the weekend, while shopping, an announcement sounded over the loudspeaker. Free samples were being distributed. The location was on the other end of the store. I gathered a few items on my list and strolled over towards the small crowd. An employee was nearing the end of his kitchen gadget demonstration. I waited in line. When it was my turn, the employee declined my request for the free sample because I wasn’t present during the entire demonstration. I walked away empty handed, shaking my head and mumbling a few unmentionables.
As I finished my shopping expedition, I thought back to when acquiring free samples involved very little effort. I didn’t have to watch a demonstration or wait in line. I simply had to surf the internet and visit my trusted sources. The presence of online free samples was abundant. In fact, most of the popular deal sites offered a designated forum for people to post free sample offers. I was a frequent flyer. Within a few months I was using the spare bedroom to store my samples. It became my Free Sample Metropolis.
Now, these forums mimic ghost towns. The availability of online free samples has steadily decreased over the years. A lot of people were upset, including me. However, a few years ago, when I started my own little enterprise, the behind-the-scenes reality hit me like a wrecking ball. I was the one providing free samples. There’s a lot to be learned when you’re standing on the other side of the fence.
For a lot of companies, providing free samples is a marketing commodity that’s been around for decades. Local bakeries offer sample sized pieces of their goods. The cosmetic counters at department stores are lined with bottles of perfume to sample. On the weekends, you can walk into BJ’s and Costco with hunger pangs and leave with a full tummy.
Marketing strategies behind the “try before you buy” theory is both challenging and can get expensive. When these strategies involve shipping free samples to thousands of people, the total cost is through the roof. To eliminate some of the costs in the past, companies started charging a small shipping fee for product samples. This helped to filter out the people who were serious about trying a new product and those who just wanted something for free. While offering free samples appeals to the masses, it’s not always going to generate paying customers. If there’s no ROI with online free sample promotions, it’s evident why companies discontinued these offers.
Gradually, companies caught on to the benefits of in-store free sample promotions at retail locations and grocery store chains. This gives the customers the opportunity to sample a product. Conveniently located by these displays are full sized products to purchase. By doing this, the company has the opportunity to speak to the public, promote their product and get immediate feedback. In years prior, feedback depended on recipients filling out a survey about the free sample they received.
There’s no guaranteed win with providing free samples. It’s a marketing game of roulette. A trial and error of where and when. I’ve witnessed companies emptying free products onto a table and within an hour they’re wiped out. Mob mentality kicks in, people grab what they can and walk away. On the other hand, I’ve helped myself to a sample and ended up purchasing the product. Bottom line, from a company standpoint, it’s all in how you roll the dice.