Free Samples

Farmer's Market
Image from user awottawa

“It bothers me to watch the hordes at the farmer’s market, swooping in to each booth, grabbing a sample and walking away,” writes Seth Godin. In his post, he explains that it bugs him to see farmers giving away free samples at a farmer’s market. Instead of offering samples, they need to focus on building connections. Of course, building relationships leads to trust and eventually the buy. No argument there.
I’ve been guilty of picking up a sample and avoiding eye contact with the person at the booth. But I do the same thing in clothing stores. Two reasons for this. One: I want to make my own decisions without interaction. If I need help, I’ll seek it. Two: I don’t want to risk having an awkward conversation or embarrassing situation if I can’t read the person’s lips.
Example. Years ago, I was trying on clothes in a store with my mom nearby. Apparently, the sales person had been trying to talk to me while I was in the changing stall. She admitted to my mom that she thought I was a snob. We had a nice conversation, I bought a few things and I walked away with a good story.
If I I decide to buy the sampled item, then I’ll go back and grab it.
Granted, Godin could be speaking of farmer’s markets and not other situations. After all, he has given away many books. It’s true that free samples don’t work for everything. Writing and designing on spec has had plenty of controversy.  Yet, sites like 99designs thrive. These sites allow clients to post a project posting a fee for the winning design. Designers submit their entries based on the client’s requirements and cross their fingers. Imagine the time the designer invests in creating the work. If the designer’s work isn’t selected, that’s time wasted. And many do it again and again.
I’ve bought many things as a result of free samples. Some of these, I continue to buy. While 10 people may have sampled items with no plans to buy, the company turned me into a loyal customer. My regular purchases paid for the 10 little samples and then some.
Heck, I’ve even bought from companies after receiving their swag that had nothing to do with their product or service. The swag helped me remember them when I needed their services. Yes, I researched the company before hiring them. No one expects you to buy on swag alone.
Building relationships is important. No question. Still, free samples. They can be a good thing. Maybe not for farmer’s markets, but certainly for others.
What are your thoughts on samples? Spec work?

4 thoughts on “Free Samples”

  1. Meryl,
    Thanks for your post. I read Seth Godin’s post, and I personally try samples all the time. I like going to Whole Foods because they offer samples, so I can try before I buy. I can be a picky eater at times so I want to make sure that I like something before I buy it.
    I understand what Seth means though, because I have seen people go to Whole Foods only to try the samples and leave without buying. But that’s not any of my business because who is to say that they will not be back later.

  2. Avil, my Whole Foods is great about samples. Not long ago, I tried World Peas <> at Whole Foods and bought three bags. Here I am promoting the product — more bang for their samples 🙂
    Seems silly to drive to a store just for the samples. But then maybe they tried and didn’t find anything to buy.

  3. You’re doing work on spec with the blog. You give away free information in the hope that people will come back and purchase what you have to offer. It’s a hard road to slog to say “buy from me because I’m good…trust me!” without giving the semblances of credibility to back the statement. Ramit Sethi has a good ratio. He gives away 98% of his content and sells 2% of it. Would I build a house or a software system on spec? No. However, information-based products can have a lot of free breadcrumbs to lead you down the trail.

    • Jason, some excellent points. In terms of blogs and free content — it’s something we choose to do rather than submit to a potential client in hopes we land the job. Appreciate your stopping by and commenting!


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