FREE Samples Do Drive Sales!

Friday, September 13th, 2013
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We’re all familiar with free samples. We see food products offered by latex gloved associates at the grocery store, perfume samples dropped in checkout baggies at department stores, and sometimes even free detergent or cereal in the mail. Why is sample giving so popular to so many successful businesses? There are various reasons companies may choose to offer samples. Below, we’ll outline a few good reasons online merchants might consider adding sample giving to their regular operations, and some tips on executing to maximize the business ROI.

Why Give Samples?

Allow strong products to sell themselves. More than once, I have sampled a product that really surprised me, and although I would have never picked up the product and saw no need for it at the time, the sample turned me into an immediate customer. This free sample method was also famously used by 3M’s Arthur Fry, co-founder of the Post-It Note. When trying to grow demand for Post-Its, Mr. Fry targeted secretaries and office personnel, offering his Post-Its free to them for several months. Then abruptly, he stopped, knowing that once customers tried the notes, they would find themselves using them and would be hooked. He was right!

Draw attention to a company’s other product offerings. Most of us don’t scroll through every single page of a website. We look for what we think we need, and maybe click on a few other appealing things what we notice. Then we check out, unaware of a company’s full catalog. Offering free samples in customers’ shipments is a very smart way for companies to introduce customers to their other products.

Free surprise gifts are exciting!  Everyone likes free goodies. Giving something for free with ANY purchase can be a selling point for your entire store. Cosmetic retail giant Sephora knows this well, and it has been a regular business practice there for years. The company clearly advertises, “3 Free Samples with Any Purchase” on their homepage.

Move excess inventory. This is particularly relevant to companies that sell items which expire, such as food. If something is not selling, of if you find yourself with extras for any reason, this is a great way to move product out the door and give your customers a little fun treat that may come back to you in the form of more business.

If you decide to offer samples, it’s not just what you do; it’s how you do it! Here are some tips on doing it well:

  1. Promote your free gifts clearly on your site. Create a banner or other promotional image and display it clearly and consistently on a highly visible section of your website. Samples are fun, and this little surprise may even help you land the bigger sale!
  2. Make the “add to cart” automatic, and obvious to the customer. You want customers to see the product actually in their shopping bag with words FREE. You can set up an automatic add to cart trigger of a free sample product, so that as soon as the customer adds a regular product to cart, the free item floats into their cart. They see it on their confirmation, and packing list, and are maybe even looking forward to it!
  3.  Override shipping costs. Don’t make the customer pay shipping for something that’s supposed to be 100% free! Make sure you don’t anger your customers by missing this important detail! If you are a Nexternal customer, use your product overrides section.
  4.  Package with care and communicate key details. It may be free, but treat your freebie with value! Package it attractively, as this communicates that you value it. Also, remember that the customer has not voluntarily purchased this item, so they don’t have the benefit of reading a product description. If it’s not clear what the product is or does, consider including instructions and key benefits. Definitely ensure that the product name is clearly marked, so that if the customer likes it, they can return to your store and identify it easily for purchase.
  5.  Consider offering a coupon for next purchase of the sampled product. A little discount might just be the only nudge necessary to seal the deal and bring the customer back for more!

Try it out!

Lanette Willis is a Senior Account Manager at Nexternal. Before joining Nexternal she spent nearly a decade working in market research and professional services marketing, before running her own successful eCommerce apparel business. Lanette is passionate about helping people and businesses thrive.