We’ve looked at the importance of competing on value rather than price, and now here comes a seemingly counterintuitive idea: giving your customers stuff for free.
Should you try this promotion tactic? Maybe.
Exactly what to hand out and how to do it will vary based on your goals and what you sell. In another post, we covered freebie options for service providers and B2B businesses. Right now, let’s look at some common freebie tactics for online retailers to see whether they’re right for you, and how to use them wisely.
Email list signup giveaways
Offering people a free item in exchange for joining an email list is a tradition as old as e-commerce. Most advice on list-signup freebies focuses on information products like special reports, but retailers can use freebies to build a list, too. The best-known retail example is Bed Bath & Beyond’s instant 48-hour, 20% coupon for new list members. If you run a stationery, organization or craft store online, you can offer free printable downloads in exchange for joining your email list. And yes, retailers can offer free information, too. If you sell homemade, allergen-free dog treats, you might write a list of tips for helping dogs with allergies thrive. Format it for easy printing and be sure to include your business name and logo.
Costco knows how to leverage freebies. Shoppers join to buy food in bulk but they get surprisingly excited about the tiny cups of free food and drinks on offer. If you have a physical store or vend at fairs, think about small items you could offer for free to get new customers to try your products or treat repeat customers to a token of appreciation. You may have to make your samples “first-come first-serve” or “the first 50 shoppers” so you don’t unbalance your budget, and be sure to promote your giveaways in advance and in real time on social media for the most mileage. Also, limit in-store freebies to times when you have something new to promote, so you don’t have people coming around all the time for free stuff without ever making a purchase.
Bonus items with purchases
Free extras with purchases are an easy way to get your existing customers to try new products. This is actually how the grocery delivery service I use got my entire family hooked on Coke Life; free samples kept arriving with our orders and now we buy some every week. Online beauty retailers like Sephora and Paula’s Choice do something similar by letting shoppers choose their freebies from a menu during the checkout process.
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Swag bags, silent auctions and door prizes
Whether it’s a PTA fundraiser or the Oscars, it’s not an event without swag bags. These goodie bags, along with silent auction items and door prizes, are typically contributed by local businesses at the request of volunteers. If a group asks you to contribute your merchandise, take these steps to make sure your donation benefits your business as well as their event.
- First, make sure the cause is something you genuinely support and that the event audience matches your customer profile. Over time, your business may get lots of donation requests and you won’t be able to fulfill them all, so choose strategically.
- Next, make sure your business name and contact information is on your products. Order stickers if you need to and put them on everything you donate. I once got a full-size tube of Mary Kay hand lotion in a swag bag, and I loved it. Unfortunately, by the time I got the bag contents sorted out, the representative’s card was nowhere to be found, so I didn’t know who to repay for their generosity with an order.
- Finally, if you’re contributing a door prize to an event, make sure in advance that your prize and company name are announced as part of the drawing. Ask that the MC show off what you’ve donated and tell people where to find your table or business cards at the event.
Giveaways to social media followers
Giveaways on social media are a good way to add followers. For example, maybe you hold a giveaway drawing for Facebook followers who share your post on their personal page. You can sweeten the deal with a promo code for everyone who participates. For example, maybe you do a drawing for a candle from your home décor collection, and after the drawing, give everyone who shared your post a coupon code for your shop as a thank-you.
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Reviewers and influencers
Giving samples to reviewers and influencers can expand your audience without spending a lot on advertising. The trick is to choose recipients carefully. Their audience profile should match your customer persona, and you should understand their review policies before you send anything. If they agree to do a review or testimonial, send something great. Then promote their review (assuming it’s good) all over your social media and on your product page. You may get requests for samples from reviewers whose audience is too small or doesn’t match yours. It’s OK to say no, thank them for their interest, and direct your promotional efforts elsewhere.
The easiest freebie: shipping
Online shoppers expect free shipping now, even though intellectually we all know shipping costs are built into product pricing. Offering free shipping can be a tie-breaker for shoppers considering other retailers, and even small shops can make free shipping work as long as you set the conditions carefully. For example, express and international shipping can be breathtakingly costly, so maybe limit your free offer to domestic standard shipping. You can also offer a free gift wrap and card option during the holiday shopping season to make gift-buying easier for your customers.
Remember that you need a goal for your giveaways, whether it’s building your email list, expanding your social media following, introducing new products or strengthening your relationship with your current customers. The one goal that should underpin every free promotion you do is getting people to appreciate the value of what you sell. That way, people who get something from you for free are more likely to become repeat customers who shop with you because of your products’ value, not just their price.
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.