The Great Debate of Product Samples: Do You or Don’t You Provide Them?

by Matt Weik

I feel as if talking about product samples is a great topic of discussion and one we could probably debate about all day long. Personally, I see a solid argument from both the consumer side as well as the manufacturer side. The question I ultimately want thought about is the reasoning for providing samples and what you intend to get out of them (yes, there’s more than one thing you can get out of giving product samples).

The Cost of Gaining Trial

First and foremost, product samples are fantastic for getting out into the hands of consumers to get trial on a new product, as many of them appreciate the fact that you allow them to try something prior to spending $50+ on a product and finding out they don’t like it. But you also run the risk of some individuals only wanting freebies and who do not care about your product or brand. You could consider giving out samples to gain feedback before a launch (beta testing), or it could be to stir up interest from consumers. However, this tends to be a double-edged sword.

When you start providing samples, consumers expect there to always be samples. You’re essentially training them to wait for samples on all new product launches. While this may be a brand’s strategy, it’s definitely a costly one (especially when you’re sampling at expos such as the Arnold Classic or the Olympia). Making samples is not cheap, and when you have no true way of gauging your ROI, you’re simply left crossing your fingers that they are helping build sales.

Providing Product Samples at Expos is a Dumb Idea

There are going to be a bunch of people angry at me for saying this, but, in my opinion, it’s 100% the truth. When you go to expos, all you see are a bunch of people walking around trying to get as many samples as they can. This can either be used for personal consumption, or you’ll get the people who want to sell the product samples online.

The people who are out to get as many samples as they can don’t care what they are getting or from who, nor do they pay attention to the product when they try it. They dump the sample in a shaker bottle or eat the protein bar, toss the packaging, and completely forget what it was or from who. It’s a total waste of money, and you have nothing to show for it.

Sampling at expos doesn’t allow you to get good feedback from your consumers either, as they are in a rush to go from booth to booth, grabbing everything in sight. Manufacturers don’t get a chance to sit down and gain actual feedback from the product samples people try. So, what’s the point?

Additionally, when tons of samples are handed out at major expos, many brands tend to see a slight dip in sales the following 1-2 months after the expo. This is due to everyone using the samples they were given. Retailers also hurt during this person as not as many people are shopping and are, instead, using up their freebie stash.

Why Not Get Something Out of Product Samples Immediately?

I have a much better idea of how to handle product samples. Below I have two examples.

1. Demos

Some brands don’t believe in demos. I personally find them useful when used in the correct setting. Doing a demo in a supplement store or gym are your two best options. And when I’m talking about product samples, I’m not talking about giving away a sample for them to take home. You want to have consumers try the product on the spot, right in front of you.

And PLEASE, don’t sample out products that the gym or supplement store does not carry. There’s nothing worse than spending the time, money, and effort sampling products at a location and not being able to point to the product on the shelf for people to go purchase while they are there.

But with the demos, you want consumers to try the product in front of you. It gives you the opportunity to explain the product, let them try the product, and gain feedback on their likes and dislikes about it. It’s also much more personable than an expo where thousands of people are rushing by to get samples without as much as a “hello” from them in passing.

2. Website Forms

This option will take a little more effort from the brand, but you can also get more information that a brand can use to convert into sales and to retarget. Having a form online that provides product samples has its advantages.

For starters, website forms collect information and data you can use. Consider this gold. Have people fill out their name, address, and email on the form. The email piece is crucial. Why? Because that is your most prized possession of the bunch. Having their email allows you to put them on your newsletter or email list (just make sure on the form in the fine print you explain they will receive emails when they sign up for the free product samples).

Once you send out the samples, you can automate a follow-up where you can send them a survey to tell you their thoughts on the samples. But more importantly, you can now email them information about the brand or products to help build traffic to your website as well as convert sales. The main thing you want is their attention.

Free is NEVER Free

As they say, nothing in life is free. Samples cost money, and giving out samples to consumers should cost them five minutes of their time to provide feedback (or their email so brands can put them in their funnel).

So, while I’m siding with having product samples, the key takeaway is using them to your advantage and not simply giving them away to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who walks by. And by no means should you ever give out full samples of product at expos as you will never get a return on your investment – EVER.

It’s YOUR money you’d be wasting if you don’t have some sort of strategy or plan in place for your sample program. The whole “being able to get trial” on a product is great but know what you want to get out of the program.