Jill Cataldo: Is that free’ sample really free?
Q I like to get free samples of products online. I visit a couple of sites that are reliable for freebies. But sometimes when I am surfing the web, I see banners offering a free sample of something like a free bottle of shampoo or free laundry detergent. But when I click them, I have to fill out two, three, four or more screens for different offers from companies not related to the sample.
One time I had to sign up for a magazine trial, and another time it was for a recipe site. Then, of course, I got a bunch of spam!
A: Manufacturers often distribute free samples to consumers to let them know about new varieties of products or to get shoppers to try a product they may not have used before.
In the pre-Internet age, shoppers might have waited for a surprise sample to come in the mail or picked up a free sample from a store display at the supermarket. But if you’re online, it’s easy to find opportunities to score free samples.
On the web, you’ll find sites devoted to free samples. You also may come across web banners advertising a free sample of this or that, if only you’ll “click here!” While the link you click may be legitimate, it may also be a link designed to capture personal information about you. That link may lead to another link asking for your name and address again, but this time to fulfill a different offer. And when you click submit on that link, guess what? You may be redirected to fill out yet another form!
Some websites that offer free samples actually harvest data for other companies. You must complete several different promotions, often described as “qualifying offers,” before you get to the screen advertising the sample.
The website that hosts the parade of offers you’ve dutifully filled out will, indeed, provide you with the sample, but it might be a travel- or trial-size product identical to those offered in the aisles of your favorite grocery store. The company has purchased these samples in bulk and provides you with one after you fill out lengthy sets of forms and offers for other items. Yes, you get something “free,” but the value of the data you supply is far greater than the cost of the sample.
If you click on a web banner offering a free sample, and the word Free has an asterisk next to it — FREE* Sample of Shampoo! — it’s usually a pretty good indicator that the sample isn’t truly free.
Startsampling.com, Pssst.generalmills.com and Vocalpoint.com are some of my favorite sites for free samples.
Jill Cataldo can be emailed at email@example.com.