Who doesn't love a freebie? Whether it's a bite from a food demonstration at Costco or a product sample handed out at street fair, anything that's free seems to taste, feel, look, and just "be" that much better. Companies know that one of the best ways to build a customer base is to get folks to try their products. But brands don't want to give away goodies to just anyone, and not everyone wants to receive a sample of men's cologne or the latest children's toy. Online free-sample services match target demographics with (maybe) the next big thing. Some websites send free samples from a variety of sources, while others connect individual companies directly with consumers eager to try new products.
Influenster.Willing consumers fill out a profile and respond to basic multiple-choice questions, or "snaps," to give this site an idea of their basic likes, favorite products, and shopping patterns. Expert and lifestyle badges are unlocked by answering questions, reviewing products, and sharing reviews on social networks. These badges, which include "techie," "bookworm," "wellness," and "sweet tooth," give focus to individual profiles and help tailor the types of free products offered for testing.
Influenster asks to connect with testers' social media profiles, which results in an impact score and reach based on the number of network connections. The combination of a profile and badges determines which free products consumers are eligible to try. Participants receive the goods in a "VoxBox." Other campaigns are conducted online -- for instance, crafting an eBay buying guide in exchange for an eBay gift card. Writing reviews of the products sampled isn't mandatory, but it increases the chances of being selected for further campaigns.
A community of bloggers publicly reviews the products received in VoxBoxes. Aside from occasional complaints about boxes that didn't arrive, the process seems to proceed smoothly and people are happy to get free samples.
BzzAgent.This well-established site has given away hundreds of thousands of products during its 14 years of existence. In addition to filling out a profile, participants complete periodic surveys detailing their habits, likes, dislikes, etc. The surveys are multiple choice and generally quite short, with some posing just one or two questions. The surveys yield a Bzzscore that dictates the number of campaigns that can be joined. It changes depending on the user's activity on the site and during a campaign, as well as on social media connections.
Joining a product-testing campaign prompts requests to take on additional assignments. These range from writing a review on Amazon or "liking" a product on Facebook to hosting a blind taste test. Fulfilling these tasks determines eligibility for future campaigns and affects the tester's Bzzscore.
Reviews indicate that participants like the user-friendly website and the variety and quantity of available campaigns. Some report it took a while to receive their first campaign invitation but several more followed (even three at a time, in some cases). Recent campaigns have included CoverGirl mascara, Chobani Greek yogurt, and a Braun Silk-Épil 7-561 (which retails for more than $100).
PinchMe.Unlike Influenster and BzzAgent, which have a stream of campaigns and testers sharing product reviews on the sites and social media, PinchMe participants log in on select Tuesdays to choose products to sample. Not every tester sees the same products -- there is some customization based on individual profiles that must be completed to qualify for samples. Still, there is often a rush to claim and order the freebies before they've been snatched up. Members can pay $3.99 to get 24-hour early access plus offers for several exclusive samples.
The sample variety at PinchMe seems a bit, well, pinched, but the ability to select and receive several samples at once is a big plus. Expect to see samples of food, health, and beauty products such as coffee, moisturizer, and nail polish.
Over the past year, the site has expanded from a pure offering of samples to all sorts of other coupons and "partner offers." These can be a bit spammy and crowd members' inboxes at times.