USA Today – Really?

While decidedly tongue in cheek this piece in today’s USA Today raised my hackles a bit.    Yes, the science is real – reciprocity is a very real behavior and not overlooked by our industry as a positive.  However, to suggest that the act of taking a sample obligates one to feel they “ought to” buy is taking the science a bit beyond simple the reality of the marketplace.   (The tattoo example is interesting but fails to mention if in the “club” perhaps there were other factors (say alcohol consumption) that might have played in the willingness to get the tattoo – regard less of subjects reporting (or some 68% of them)  reporting later that theyu would not have gotten it if it were not free.)   I am discussing free product samples here (what a surprise given the title of these pages) and not commenting on the free shipping issue

Look, the reality is that today’s shoppers are very “hip to the tricks” of marketing.  People understand that stores are handing out free samples to get you to buy, they know that brands are providing samples to people because the brands believe that once someone tries their product or service they are more likely to buy it again.  There is no mystery, no hidden secret impulse brands are trying to leverage.   People by our very nature and genetic make up are curious animals – we (generally, as a species)  LIKE to try new thing, to explore, to discover.  When a brand engages in product sampling they are simply offering someone a choice to try or not.   Is a brand likely to receive some ‘halo’ of positive thought by participating in a sampling event, well yes, of course.   But, with “conversion” norms NEVER coming even close to 100% – if reciprocity was an absolute rule – wouldn’t everyone feel compelled to buy?

In the real world people make choices, they generally do know what they are ‘getting into’ with a sample and I seriously doubt that any CPG brand is relying on “guilting” someone into buying simply because they sampled.   Many people pass by free samples all the time and do not “take one” – why?  They self select or perhaps they do feel like they do not want to be obligated if they engage – whatever their reason is it’s theirs.

But, in truth if you are interested and want to try something for free go right ahead – with full knowledge that you MIGHT feel, if you liked it, it is worth buying – or not.    Humans have free will even though in far too many cases tricks of manipulation can get people to do things they do not want to do.   In the world of free product samples perhaps common sense ought prevail and we should not make an assumption that free samples inevitably lead to higher rings for the retailer.  Sure, they HOPE it does and that is part of the reason to invest in sampling but I think more highly of we shoppers  – don’t you?

From USA Today, August 14th 2017,   No, nothing comes for free. Not even free samples or free shipping