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November 24, 2021

Are free samples an effective marketing strategy?

Free samples! Can there be two sweeter words in the English language?

AdGrocery stores like sample giveaways because they distract the kids and get shoppers worked up about getting something for nothing. Consumers have come to expect being flagged by strangers in hairnets. After all, it’s free and, who knows, it might even be edible.

As for the companies supplying the goods? They’re looking for traction, so much so that they’re happy to pay stores a couple hundred bucks a day for the right to sprinkle those cheese squares around.  

"Some stores can't afford not to give out samples," says supermarket analyst David Livingston. "It's something the customer has come to expect."

According to a study from the W.P. Carey School of Business, however, these sampling programs are pretty effective: A research team found that when consumers are given food samples, they tend to seek out more food afterward. The phenomenon is called "reverse alliesthesia."

Trouble is, you're never quite sure if you're about to bite into a tasty offering cooked up by a local vendor or getting traif that's approaching its expiration date.

Still, the chances are good that eventually you will become wedded to the product and become loyal to the brand. In one study of toothpaste sampling, researchers found that consumers who received free samples of toothpaste in a newspaper circular were more likely to use that particular brand.

Why does this work? Because you're polite, says psychologist Susan Whirbourne: You've been given something, seemingly for nothing, and now you feel obligated to reciprocate by buying the item.

Are you a sampler? Do you think those snacks influence your subsequent purchases?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...