Free samples of quality products are fantastic. They are affordable and they give the impression that a gift-exchange is being enacted between the giver and the recipient. The giver offers the recipient a quality sample, and the recipient responds with the promise of future patronage of the giver’s business. In these circumstances, giving free samples is a win-win situation and everybody leaves the encounter happy. I would like to wager, however, that the same mutually beneficial effect can be produced when, rather than offering free product samples, the giver offers the same goods at a bargain price. The goods would still be affordable to the customer, while the company would make some money. Especially important, attaching a low price to the goods would indicate that the goods have value. This point could not be communicated as effectively with free samples.
There are plenty of instances when reducing the prices of goods to negligible levels attracts customers from far and wide. This tends to happen at seasons’ end sales and at closing down sales. The idea, in both of these types of cases, is to get rid of the stock and to do so fast. Somehow, offering the items at throw-away prices seems to convince people that they are getting good quality for their money. Simply offering the items at no charge would make some people think there was something wrong with the goods. Also, charging a negligible price is better than charging nothing at all in the sense that the people who take the goods away feel respectable. Their perception is that they have used their hard-earned money to purchase the goods, and they were shrewd or lucky enough to get a great discount. They are not the recipients of charity, waiting for the sympathy of some magnanimous businessperson who wants to get rid of unsalable products. Their perceptions of free samples or free products as charity might be erroneous, but at the end of the day, these people are the customers. Everybody knows that the customer is always right, so any serious-minded businessperson will make an effort to understand how his or her customers perceive the world. Furthermore, he or she will make business-practice adjustments to accommodate the customers’ needs.
Since free products can be perceived either positively or negatively, one cannot make simple generalizations about them. Instead, it makes sense to look at the context before deciding that it makes sense to distribute free samples.