Complimentary Stuff: The Inside Story

Here at, we have many popular site areas, but none more so than those offering free samples. These sections are consistently the most popular. It seems people can’t get enough of real-life freebies. But why do companies give away free stuff? From a marketing perspective, is the process of offering samples worthwhile? And, more importantly, do samples really entice people to purchase items after they’ve tested them? investigates…

Why do companies want to give away freebies?

Free products are by no means a recent phenomenon. Supermarkets have been offering them for years and companies also distribute samples of products via the post. Likewise, pens, mouse mats and key rings are invariably found at exhibitions, and samples are also available within the pages of beauty and fashion magazines. Their purpose is to enhance brand image, “get the word out”, and to increase sales, but they may also act as bait for a commercial product.

The Internet has revolutionised the way freebies are obtained, and companies no longer need to bombard thousands of letterboxes in the hope that somebody, somewhere, will purchase their products. Web users can now locate samples and be selective over the ones that interest them. Furthermore, as more people get online, we see companies taking full advantage of the Internet’s popularity. As such, free stuff has become all the more common (a fact highlighted by the growing number of TV advertisements pointing viewers in the direction of free samples).

What’s the catch?

When it comes to requesting freebies online, especially at, there are no notable catches. Companies offering free samples want you to obtain testers of their products as easily as possible, so they’re not going to make you jump over too many hurdles! They will usually require your name, address (for delivery of the sample) and perhaps your e-mail address. You may be asked to opt-in to an e-mail mailing list to receive further information from the product manufacturer (and legitimate sites will allow you to unsubscribe from these mailings).

Please note: If you opt-in to a newsletter to receive your freebie, this cannot be classified as “spam” (junk-mail), since you’ve given permission for the company to send you details.

If you regularly request freebies, you may find yourself receiving more and more e-mail newsletters from various companies, which is why we recommend setting up a secondary, junk-mail account solely for the purpose of requesting samples.

Remember: If you are uncomfortable providing your details, then don’t feel forced to do so. There are plenty of freebies available from companies who treat privacy as a right. Be on the lookout for companies who allow you to opt-out of third party mailings – a sure-fire sign they take the issue seriously.

Is offering samples worthwhile or a hindrance?

Take this example: you sample some perfume, a brand that in most circumstances you would usually avoid. However, on this occasion, you find it appealing. This product has immediately become acceptable; you may recommend it to your friends, or purchase it yourself. From the perfume company’s perspective, this is positive news. With this in mind, free samples allow companies to reach segments of the community they normally would have difficulty targeting. They change perceptions by allowing people to try before they buy. Samples are, quite literally, a test. Advertisements can draw your attention to products, but there is nothing like sampling the real thing. At least then you know where you stand.

For some, however, collecting freebies is a hobby, and it’s difficult to differentiate between people who are genuinely interested in using a product sample, and somebody who simply wishes to add to their collection. We’ve found that the vast majority of people are selective over the samples they obtain, but others aren’t so picky and have a tendency to pursue anything they can get hold of without a price tag. This begs the question: “How can a company guarantee their samples are being used, and if the investment is worthwhile?” The answer is it’s a balancing act. Companies take the rough with the smooth and hope that by distributing enough samples, their product will reap the rewards. Read on and we’ll examine whether free samples can generate additional sales.

Do free products equal more sales?

If the purpose of product samples is to increase sales and raise awareness, are companies successful in their endeavours? Let’s take a look at a number of examples:

A free sample of shaving gel, which I had obtained online, resulted in me purchasing over ten tubes of the sampled product. I was so impressed that I have become a loyal customer, and I would highly recommend the product. In fact, I have recommended it, and it has since been purchased on my recommendation. The company who produces this product is not the industry leader, but I have no reason to switch brands. In this company’s eyes, my satisfaction is a success story, and I doubt I’m the only one who evoked this reaction. Similarly, after requesting a sample of free tea bags promising numerous health benefits, one particular family has since become loyal customers. They now purchase the product regularly and have even recommended it to others in their area, much to the delight of the manufacturer. Word of mouth has certainly shown its value in this situation!

However, not every story is as rosy. If you sample a product and end up disliking it, you’ll likely do much more than avoiding the product in future. You might voice your dissatisfaction! (Granted, perhaps not as forcefully as if you had purchased the product, but the point remains). Studies suggest we tell far more people about our dissatisfaction than our more positive encounters. Therefore, free samples could be risky business if the quality of the product is not adequately tested beforehand. Even so, and more often than not, people are happy to receive anything for free. If they dislike the item, it’s unlikely they’ll dwell on it for too long.

So free samples do have their benefits and in some instances, have been remarkably successful. But for companies looking to increase their market share, offering samples alone is rarely the magic formula. When combined with other marketing activities, however, free samples can indeed increase sales, raise awareness and create a buzz around products that may otherwise go unnoticed. One thing is for sure: free samples are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

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