Freebie-hunting bloggers offer advice for becoming a sample sleuth
No thrill is as cheap as the one that’s free.
Those of us who get a jolt from a good deal might just do a happy dance when something costs nothing.
Enter the free sample.
The Web and its seemingly endless catalog of Great Recession-fueled money-saving sites and blogs make it easier than ever to track down free product samples. But this hunt comes with the Internet’s usual cautionary tale.
“There are a number of free samples sites that I won’t recommend,” says Stephanie Nelson, also know as The Coupon Mom. With more than a decade of blogging under her belt, along with her book, “The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half” (Avery Trade), this Denver native fancies herself a sage among Web-based money savers.
“If you have to fill out a form before you can see the specific sample that’s available, that’s a red flag for me,” Nelson says. “You want to see the exact sample before you order it.”
Nelson’s blog and website host direct advertisers that provide samples for more site members. Even that step, she says, cannot prevent visitors from stumbling into phishing-like situations: “The Google ads on the page can bring up some funny baloney.”
Her best advice for securing free samples online?
Watch for them via a manufacturer’s website and social media outlets, “rather than something murky that says ‘hundreds of free samples!’ ”
These sites will ask users to register with, among other things, a mailing address — they do need to know where to send your free stuff. But none should require personal or banking information.
For those folks who simply avoid shopping online and prefer never to put their contact information out on the Web, Nelson notes that there are a couple of tried-and-true “off-line” strategies for procuring free samples.
“Some of the best samples you can get are at doctors’ and dermatologists’ offices,” she says. “They have so many of them, like travel-size bottles of lotion.”
All you have to do is ask.
Nelson’s other favorite place to prowl for free samples: department store cosmetics counters.
For good reason.
Giving fragrance and cosmetics customers the option of trying a product before they buy it is a cornerstone of the beauty industry, says Karen Delauro, a regional
beauty and fragrance director for Nordstrom, where “a customer can walk up to pretty much any counter and say ‘I want to try that.’
“We definitely want to offer customers the sample of choice and will customize it to their needs,” she says “…We want our customers to know that we are obsessed with samples!”
So much so that a couple of years ago, Nordstrom started using its Facebook and Twitter accounts to alert customers to Sample Saturdays, when the fragrance and beauty departments of stores nationwide are awash in a particular product sample.
And it’s worth noting: If customers can get a free cosmetics sample at this store, they can certainly play that card at the next store.
Delauro says that the closer a customer follows a particular brand, the more likely they are to learn about coveted gift-with-purchase opportunities, often offered seasonally by the likes of Estee Lauder, Clinique or Lancôme.
Because when it comes to freebies, once a fan, always a fan.
Look no further than Fort Collins blogger Stacy Fisher, who’s been hooked on freebies since the late 1990s. It started when Fisher was “a poor college student” at Emporia State University in Kansas.
“After seeing my little dorm mailbox fill up with free cereal and shampoo, I was just like, wow this is great!” Fisher recalls.
That early love of freebies spawned Fisher’s first blog devoted to the subject. Now Fisher writes the Freebies Guide for About.com, where she doles out such sample-procuring advice as:
Get in on it early — Check for free sample opportunities every day, or even several times a day, to increase your chances of getting them.
Stay away from free-sample scams — Since a lot of companies offer free samples on web sites other than their own, it’s not as easy as looking at the address bar to see if you’re participating in a legitimate deal. You can avoid most free-sample scams by skipping those that ask for money, financial information or a Social Security number.
Follow through as needed — Note the date you request a free sample. Most samples arrive in six-eight weeks after you’ve asked for them, unless it says otherwise.
Fisher estimates that a devoted sample hunter could spend less than a half-hour a day online registering for whatever samples are out there. Her own freebie-hunting readers find out sample news on Fisher’s Facebook page.
This and other sample sleuths also note that manufacturer coupons can be easier to get than straightforward freebies, and some coupons can ultimately result in a freebie, particularly when stores offer double- or triple-coupon value events.
All of these money-saving bloggers are quick to point out the major retailers that make it easy for consumers to try new products by offering sample-specific websites, namely Target and Wal-Mart.
“You couldn’t live off of free samples,” Fisher concludes. “But it is a great way to try new things and save money.”
Elana Ashanti Jefferson
One more expert’s take on free-sample requests
Colorado coupon blogger and Denver Post contributor Jennie Sanford is well-versed in being a product-sample sleuth. What follows are some of her tips for requesting freebies. You can find more of Sanford’s money-saving insights at
blogs.denverpost.com/coloradoathome and BargainBlessings.com.
Consider setting up a separate e-mail account for requesting free items online. This is a good way to protect your personal account from any unnecessary spam.
Watch for high-value coupons that often accompany free samples. Sanford once requested a sample of Nutrish, Rachael Ray’s dog food, and received a coupon for a free full-sized bag along with the sample.
Make sure to request samples only from reputable companies. If something online does not look or feel right, Sanford says skip it. There are plenty of legit samples available; better safe than sorry when doing anything online.
Never provide personal information such as credit card details or your Social Security number.
Facebook alert: Many manufacturers “buy” Facebook friends by offering free samples. Keep in mind that some of them not only require you to publicly “like” them on Facebook, but that this also can allow them to post on your Facebook wall. You can, however, opt to hide or approve posts before they go up on your wall.
Local freebie and couponing sites often are a safe bet for sourcing legitimate sample offers.
By Elana Ashanti Jefferson
The Denver Post