The Free Sample which Isn’t So Free

August 29, 2009 by  
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This is a psychological ruse you can use at craft fairs and parties; it’s the psychological rule of reciprocation and here is how it can work to your advantage.


Have you ever taken a free sample from the supermarket?  Did you know the reason big brands give out free samples is because research shows that customers are then much more   likely to go on and buy the actual product after they have had a free sample. Amazingly, this happens even when they didn’t enjoy the sample that much in the first place.

This is the rule of reciprocation, and its effect is much more powerful when it’s used by smaller businesses.

This is how it works:

Some years ago an experiment was conducted by a university professor who sent Christmas cards to a sample of complete strangers. The response he had was amazing. A pile of cards addressed to him came back by return, and the vast majority of people did not enquire as to who he was. It was an automatic response. Someone sends a Christmas card and you send one back. It’s social conditioning at work.

The rule of reciprocation has been studied by social scientists and they have found that this rule exists across all cultures. You give somebody something and they feel obliged to give something back or do something in return.  Look at the way that the phrase “much obliged” is used instead of thanks.

Here is how you can use this to your advantage. If you are at a craft fair, have a little bowl of small items, perhaps key-rings or earrings made from small inexpensive beads. Label them “take one – free sample” and encourage visitors to your stand to rummage through and take one. Or you can even just hand samples out.

Handing samples out is very effective at a jewellery parties. You can begin by introducing yourself and then hand out a free sample as your gift to the attendees for coming.

Research shows that the people who take the free samples are much more likely to either return to your stand and make a purchase, and at jewellery parties using this technique will dramatically increase your takings on the level they would have been had you not give out a sample.

Try it. Make sure you give away little things which are inexpensive. Give away useful items, not rubbish and watch the results. It’s definitely worth conducting your own experiment.


3 Responses to “The Free Sample which Isn’t So Free”
  1. mary storey says:

    Hi started a website up selling handcrafted jewellery, had people looking but no one buying where am i ging wrong is my work rubbish or not. sell off site to friends colleagues etc where am i going wrong

  2. Allison says:

    This is exactly the kind of problem we are going to be addressing in coming updates from There is no one or two sentence solution that I can give you here. Please email the web address of your site to us using the contact us page and we will take a look and see if we can offer any immediate help

  3. Katrina Lucas says:

    I like the sound of that! I have my first stall in Leamington Spa on the 14th of nov and am very nervous so i think i might try the free sample ideas. I will let you know how it goes!