How to use free samples in your marketing
Sometimes, the easiest way to win over customers is to give away your product for free.
It might sound counterintuitive, but a free sample campaign can actually help you increase sales. A well-executed giveaway helps introduce your product to new customers and earn loyalty from existing ones. It also serves as a strong sales signal — if you’re willing to give away your product, it means you have enough confidence in its quality.
As effective as a free sample campaign can be, it is also equally easy to lose mounds of money chasing the wrong customers or tactics. To help you out, we put together this guide to understanding free samples and how to use them in your Ecwid store.
From this guide you'll learn:
As they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If your customers aren’t paying for the product, you are. Given the costs involved, why should you run a free samples campaign?
Here are some good reasons why:
- Build loyalty among top customers: Your top customers have shown their faith by regularly buying from you. Repay this faith by dropping free samples of your upcoming products in their mailbox. When this free gesture is done purely out of goodwill (and not any explicit commercial intentions), it can help endear your brand to them even more.
- Reactivate lost customers: A customer who ordered from you once or twice but hasn’t come back in a while is a strong candidate for a free sample campaign. Send them a surprise package to remind them about your brand and pull them back into the sales cycle.
- Close deals: Some potential customers are interested in your products, but are hesitant to pull the trigger because they’re unsure of the brand or the product. A free sample can reassure them that your products are, indeed, worth buying.
- Educate customers: An online-only sales model can be tough if you’re selling products that need to be felt, tasted, or experienced. A free sample can bridge this gap and help educate customers at minimal costs.
- Test new products: If you’re launching a new product, offer your top customers free samples to gauge demand and gather feedback. Your existing customers are a safe bet since they are already familiar with your brand and will be more likely to offer honest feedback.
- Gather reviews and testimonials: E-commerce success depends a great deal on strong reviews, testimonials, and user-generated content (UGC). Giving away free samples in exchange for reviews and mentions can help you quickly build up social proof.
- Introduce a new sales model: If you operate in a market segment where E-commerce is still uncommon, a free sample campaign can help build customer confidence. Since there is no risk involved on the customer’s part, they can try the new sales model without apprehension.
- Keep up with industry standards: In some industries - such as makeup or food & beverages - offering free samples is almost an industry standard. Customers in such industries tend to have strong brand loyalty and are often hesitant to switch without at least trying the new product. A free sample can help overcome this hesitation.
Regardless of your reasons for running a free samples campaign, it’s important to adopt the right strategy.
Every free samples campaign essentially involves two core considerations:
- Who do you offer the samples to, i.e. your target market?
- When do you offer the samples, i.e. the current stage of their buyer’s journey?
Everything from the value to the messaging of your campaign will spring from these two factors.
Let’s understand these in more detail below.
Target the Right Market
Who you offer your free samples will depend on what you hope to achieve with your campaign.
If you’re looking to activate new customers, you will have to be careful about demographics. You don’t want to spend money shipping free samples to people who can’t afford to buy the real thing.
Similarly, if you want to build loyalty among existing customers, you’ll want to target people who have shown flagging enthusiasm for your products. If the average order value (AOV) is going down and brand interactions keep dropping, a free sample can help revive loyalty.
Sephora offers samples with each order. But they limit the number of available samples per order. This way they won’t give out too many items, while customers will be coming back to try new products with the next purchase.
Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing your target market:
- Reactivation campaign: Target customers who haven’t engaged with the brand in 3+ months, or haven’t bought anything in 8-12 months.
- Loyalty campaign: Focus on customers with strong engagement, high AOV, and, preferably, strong social media presence.
- New customers campaign: Target customers in the Decision stage of the buyer’s journey, i.e. customers who are ready to buy but need a final push. Make sure they match your demographics - they should be able to afford it at least.
- Experiential/educational campaign: Target customers in the Awareness or Consideration stage of the buyer’s journey who are unsure of the product and need to experience it in flesh.
- User-Generated Content (UGC) campaign: Focus on customers who are active on social media to make it easy to gather UGC and build-up social proof.
Pick the Right Moment
When you choose to offer your free samples is as important as who you offer them to. A customer who fits your demographics but isn’t ready to buy yet is just a wasted opportunity.
To pick the right moment, you need a keen understanding of two things:
1. Customer Resistance
How resistant customers are to trying new products depends on multiple factors, such as:
- Product category: Customers typically show less resistance to trying new products in frequently purchased categories such as food & beverages. Since customers repeat the purchase often, there is little buyer’s remorse - you can always go back to the old variant in your next purchase.
- Customer demographics: Although not always true, older customers tend to be more conservative and are less likely to try untested brands or products.
- Price: Customer resistance to trying out new products is directly related to its price. You might throw away $10 on a new brand, but you’ll think twice before spending $100.
Strategy: Offer free samples early on in the purchase cycle to establish trust. This will ensure that the customer at least knows that your product does what it says. The rest of your E-commerce marketing can then focus on highlighting the other features/benefits of the product.
2. Impulsivity vs Consideration
Certain product categories naturally invite impulse purchases. Usually it is the matter of price: candy, cheap electronics and accessories, food & beverages - you can usually sell these within minutes of offering a free sample.
While price is obviously a big factor, customer impulsiveness depends greatly on how much buyer’s remorse they might feel post-purchase. This depends on factors such as:
- Purchase quantity: The number of variants of the product you plan to own impacts your impulsiveness. When you buy a phone, a bad decision carries a heavy penalty. But if you plan to own several copies (such as T-shirts or shoes), a bad decision can be rectified in the next purchase for cheap.
- Lock-in: Although this is rare, products that lock you into an ecosystem often invite a lot of deliberation. You’ll think several times before buying an Apple laptop because this will tie you into a specific ecosystem.
- Sales cycle length: A often repeated purchase invites impulsiveness. You can make spur of the moment candy buying decisions because you’ll visit the grocery store every week. However, if you plan to buy only one winter coat every three years, you’ll take more time with the decision.
Strategy: If your product is an impulsive purchase, your target should be to offer free samples as close to the purchase decision as possible. In a physical store, you might do this by placing your products near the checkout aisle. Online, you can do the same by bundling free samples as part of an existing promotion, such as a BOGO offer.
For products that require more deliberation, offer free samples early in the purchase cycle. This helps establish a baseline of trust and gets prospects familiar with your brand.
Allure offers a free full-size product only for new members of their subscription. They also offer it for a limited time. The sense of urgency drives more customers, which compensates for the high value of the sample.
Free samples campaigns work best when you can pitch the samples to the right customers at the right time. But strategy can only take you so far - you also need to put things into practice.
It’s important to have a sound strategy, but how do you put it into practice? We’ll share some ways you can identify the right customers and offer them samples at the right time with.
Offer a free sample as part of a BOGO(F) promotion
Buy One Get One Free (BOGO-F) promos work for E-commerce because they give the impression that customers are getting more value for less. And who doesn’t want a great deal?
Bundling your free sample in a BOGO offer works particularly well for several reasons:
- It masks the actual price of the sample; customers think they’re getting a complete product for free when it’s actually a free sample.
- It bulks up the quantity of the original purchase. Instead of just one item, the customer is now getting two (or more) for the same price.
- It incentivizes the purchase. If the BOGO deal is for a limited time only, customers might pull the trigger faster just to get the deal while it’s still active.
Best Wardrobe Solutions offered a free pair of socks to their site visitors during Black Friday sale.
🛒 In your Ecwid store: Use the BOGO app in the Ecwid market to create highly effective BOGO promos with your own custom rules.
📖 Further reading:
Send a free sample to inactive customers
Customers who bought from you once but haven’t shopped in a while are strong candidates for a reactivation campaign. Since they’re already familiar with your brand, you don’t have to sell them too hard - just remind them of your store.
Your messaging for such campaigns should focus on:
- All the new and exciting ways you’ve changed the store. Tell them about new launches, product improvements, new partnerships, etc.
- How much you miss their patronage. Don’t shy away from using phrases like “we miss you” or “come back”.
Since your goal is to reactivate the customer, include a coupon code with the sample to spur a purchase. Refer to this guide to learn how to create coupons from your Ecwid store.
Your Ecwid store is also equipped to send automated emails for different customer cohorts, including inactive customers.
🛒 In your Ecwid store you can:
- Use the Convead app to identify inactive customers
- Use the Coupon Generator or Scratch & Win Promos apps to create custom coupon codes
📖 Further reading:
Send free samples to new sign-ups
If you’re selling an impulse purchase that needs to be experienced - such as makeup - offering new sign-ups free samples can be a good idea, especially if they fit your target demographic.
For this tactic to work, your store should make it difficult to sign-up. You want serious customers only, not tire kickers.
For even better results, only use this tactic for customers who fit your demographic and engagement levels. For instance, you might only offer free samples to customers who signed up for your email list and engaged several times with your emails/social media posts in the last 48 hours.
🛒 In your Ecwid store: Use Convead app to segment customers. You can use the same app to create automation rules. Alternatively, use Zapier to create custom integrations with different email providers and create automated campaigns.
📖 Further reading:
- How to increase your revenue with newsletter automation
- Sending automated emails through your Ecwid store
Send free samples to highly engaged customers
This tactic works just like above, but instead of new sign-ups or inactive customers, you’ll use segmentation to identify highly engaged customers. Typically, these are customers who fit certain engagement criteria, such as:
- Visited several pages in one session and/or spent a lot of time on each page
- Engaged with your brand outside your website (on social media, over email, etc.)
- Displayed high-engagement behavior such as adding a product to cart or asking about pricing/delivery over email/phone
- The beginner’s guide to Google Analytics for E-commerce stores
- Google Analytics for E-commerce: Here’s what you need to know
Partner with other influencers or events
One of the toughest parts of any free sample campaign is identifying the right audience. While you can certainly use Facebook or Google Ads to zero-in on the right customers, you’ll have a much easier time by working with other influencers or events.
A customer who attends an event (offline or online) is already self-selected as a highly engaged customer. The same phenomenon can be seen among influencers, albeit to a lesser degree. If you follow a bodybuilder, there is a strong chance you’re interested in fitness as well.
Skincare brand Sulwhasoo offered to review some of their products to a skincare enthusiast @skinwithcind
Work with these events and influencers to plug your free samples to their audience. This isn’t strictly online (especially in case of events) but it can be wildly impactful, especially since a positive review from an influencer serves as an endorsement.
- How to use micro-influencers to boost E-commerce sales
- How to promote your brand outside of social media
The easiest way to offer a free sample in your Ecwid store is to add a product and set the price to $0. You can also ship samples for free, limit the order quantity for samples, or offer digital items as samples.
If you want to add free samples to your online store:
- Go to Catalog → Products in your Ecwid admin panel and click +Add New Product.
- Enter the name, description, and other product details.
- Set the price to $0.00.
- Click Save.
A customer will be able to add samples to the cart separately or as a part of the order and go to checkout. In case samples require shipping, the customer will enter the shipping address, place the order as usual, and pay for the shipping.
If you want to ship samples for free:
- Go to Catalog → Products in your Ecwid admin and click on a sample product you want to ship for free.
- Go to Shipping & Pickup tab.
- Enable This Product Requires Shipping or Pickup toggle.
- Scroll to shipping rates and choose Free shipping.
- Click Save.
With this setting this sample product will always have free shipping.
If you want to offer a free sample that can only be added to a cart one time:
- Go to Catalog → Products and add a product you want to send as a sample.
- Set the price to $0.00.
- Set Maximum order quantity for this product to 1.
- Click Save.
Customers will be able to add this sample to their cart one time per order.
If you want to offer digital products as free samples:
- Go to Catalog → Products and add a digital product you want to offer as a sample.
- Add product details.
- In the General tab untick Requires shipping or pickup.
- Then open the Files tab and click +Upload Files.
- In the popup click Choose file.
- Select the file on your computer and click Upload Files.
- Set the price to $0.00.
- Click Save.
When the order is placed, customers will be able to download this digital product for free.
To make the sample marketing campaign easier for you and your clients, you can automatically mark all items with zero price as “Paid”. That way, you don’t have to manually change the status of each order from "Awaiting Payment" to "Paid". For this, go to Settings → General → Cart & Checkout and in the Checkout Settings section set the Default payment status for orders with zero total setting to Paid.
It’s no secret that free samples work - who doesn’t like getting things for free after all?
For a free samples campaign to have a measurable impact on your bottom line, however, you have to pair it with the right strategy and tactics. Zero-in on an audience that’s hungry for your products and offer them free samples at the right time, and your sales will grow in no time.