How To Properly Give Away Free Samples

Giveaways can increase sales, but only if you follow the rules

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Jan 7 · 5 min read
Photo by Don Agnello on Unsplash

Grocery stores and the cosmetics industry have figured out something that other industries still trail behind — the art of the giveaway. Generally speaking, people really like getting free product samples. In grocery stores alone, free samples converted into sales anywhere from 71% to 500%. The obvious reason to give something away is to introduce unknown products to potential customers and hopefully turn them into repeat customers.

But when business professionals (or companies) give something away for free, they should keep these tips in mind.


Giveaway Tips

Double-check state laws before distributing free material

I used to volunteer for an HIV/AIDS awareness organization where free STI/STD testing was available. There were also free male and female condoms in candy dishes throughout the entire building. When I wrote my second book, which focused on an STD scare on a college campus, I was invited out for several book signings.

I thought it made complete sense to also give away a bag of free condoms, in addition to material on safe sex. Although my alma mater was delighted to have me come out to speak on my college experience, working in the news and publishing industry, and my books, they flat-out turned down my idea to pass out free condoms.

I should not have been shocked by this news, considering Missouri (my alma mater’s state) is one of the states that failed to enact safe sex education that would enforce that “students develop critical thinking, decision making, and stress management skills in order to support healthy relationships.” While Missouri schools could teach from a medical standpoint, the social angle was ditched completely.

Make sure the free sample is quality and relevant

For years, I was a member of Amazon’s Vine program. I was elated when those Amazon Vine newsletters popped up in my inbox. I received everything from free woks to books and athletic attire. Amazon Vine merchants are labels, manufacturers, publishers, and studios.

And in exchange for getting these free items, I was required to write an honest review on the online merchant’s page. Vendors had no contact with Vine Voices, and I was not required to write a positive review for any product I did not like. However, I cannot remember ever writing any bad reviews, which is amazing considering my Yelp! page has 122 reviews with almost as many positive reviews (36) as negative reviews (25). But pretty much every product I received for free was great quality and something I already wanted.

If you can make sure that your free product is something that your audience is already interested in and is of good value, it’s almost certain to receive positive reviews.

Make the giveaway appealing enough for participants

As a Girl Scout of five years, I wanted to create a giveaway during Black History Month. I ordered a Black History Month Encyclopedia and thought this would be a perfect gift for a troop member of my former club. But books aren’t exactly at the top of the list for young girls — unless they’re bookworms like me. I knew that eventually this would be something they could use over the years in school, but it wasn’t the kind of prize that they’d jump for joy over.

So I chose a prize set. I asked for essays about their future career goals. Whoever wrote the best essay would receive the music CD of their choosing — this was several years before CDs were outranked by online streaming services — as well as the encyclopedia. The essay had to be written by them, and the CD had to be something that was age-appropriate. (It was immediately obvious when the CD and essay were written and chosen by a parent. Juniors don’t usually use five-syllable words and ask for Kirk Franklin CDs.)

After evaluating all of the essays, I promptly distributed the gifts — no strings attached. Even now, I’m in regular communication with one of my former Girl Scout leaders (who just turned 80) and can use her as a work reference if need be. This is a win-win for me professionally and for that Girl Scout.

Have a larger goal for the giveaway that makes it a win-win for both

During a separate book signing event, my alma mater’s library purchased a box of books — eight of which they specified must be given away free to students. But the catch was that these college students had to willfully walk over to my library table and ask about my book. The first student who did so was met with a bright smile and an autographed copy, and I thanked her for her visit. I also informed her that the book was free just for her coming over. She immediately went back to two of her friends, who raced over for copies.

Just like that, word of mouth spread. I went through the eight copies, and other students or visitors walked over to pay for their copies. Of course, some people turned away once they realized the product was no longer free. But they walked right over to the librarian’s desk to see if copies were available there, which was another reason why the school bought a few extra copies. While the book delivery varied, people being able to physically see freebies being given out confirmed that the giveaway was real. (How often do we fill out surveys and enter contests but never find out who the winners are?)


Whether you choose to organize a giveaway for a larger humanitarian cause or your own business sales, just make sure it’s appealing to both parties. And no matter what, make sure your manners meet the standard of your products.


Photo credit: Olsein Idoundou/Picha Stock

Are you interested in giving away free samples during an author signing? Check out “Book Bumps” by Shamontiel for more marketing tips in this three-part series.


Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

15-year vegetarian journalist/editor; Wag! dog walker; Rover dog sitter; Unity Toastmasters member and 4x officer; Visit Shamontiel.com

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

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