How to score free samples from restaurants, stores

Looking for free samples from your favorite restaurant or department store? Here is guide on when, where, and how to get products for free. For example, try checking out the #freesample hashtag on Twitter to find freebies. 

Stephen Brashear/AP/File
People received free food samples from the Near East Couscous Caravan mobile food truck in Seattle, May 3, 2011. If you're looking for free samples, try checking out the #freesample hashtag on Twitter to find freebies.

Getting something for nothing is a thrill, but it’s also a great way to give a new product a test-run before you decide to shell out real money for it. Tons of companies and retailers are eager to get their products out there, but you have to know where to find them. We rounded up the best ways to score free samples online and off, plus advice on avoiding scams and managing all of the marketing messages that come with free stuff.

Also, be sure to check DealNews' free deals page for great free offers, and our Freebie Hub for all the resources you need to find freebies year round.

Why companies give out free samples

The most obvious reason why companies are willing to give you something for free is because they want you to try their product, in the hopes that you’ll become a paying customer. Some not-so-obvious reasons manufacturers and retailers will shell out something for nothing:

  • Sampling programs are often cheaper than traditional advertising, and studies have found them more effective.
  • Most free samples require the recipient to give contact information, allowing the company to continue marketing products and offers to him or her.
  • If you like the product, you’re likely to share the offer with friends and family, giving the company more potential customers.

Types of free samples

There are a variety of ways that companies distribute free samples of their products, including:

  • In-store: Department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom often give out free samples of perfumes, cosmetics and other health and beauty products either with or without purchase at retail counters. Grocery stores like Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s often have in-store product promotions where customers can sample food products while they shop. Discount chains likeTarget and Walmart and warehouse clubs like Costco, and BJ’s often have in-store sampling events as well.
  • Samples by mail: These are usually online promotions, where mailing information is collected through social media channels like Facebook or a website form and a free product sample is sent by snail mail, generally in 6-8 weeks.
  • Coupon samples: These work like samples by mail, but with a coupon that must be redeemed in-store for free product samples. Coupons may be mailed, emailed, or downloaded to a store’s loyalty card.
  • Loyalty program samples: Customers registering for a company’s loyalty or rewards program, like Dunkin’ Donuts DD Perks® or Sephora’s Beauty Insider will periodically get free samples or products, usually at sign-up, on birthdays, and when special promotions are offered.

How to find free samples

If you want free samples on an ongoing basis, the easiest thing to do is register for any rewards program your favorite companies or retailers may offer. You’ll receive offers for free samples via email or snail mail when they’re available. For example,P&G Everyday offers samples and coupons for their various brands to registered members, as does Kraft’s First Taste programTarget and Walmart list free sample offers on their websites and update often. And Kroger offers a Free Friday Download program, where you can download a coupon for a free product every Friday to your rewards card to redeem in-store.

If you want to try a specific product, email the company and ask for a sample. This won’t always work, of course, but it never hurts to ask. If they don’t send you a sample, they’ll usually send you a coupon, sometimes a high-value one that will make it worth your time.

If you want to browse everything that’s out there in free product samples, there are a ton of sites that aggregate them on a daily basis.StartSamplingMySavings andShop4Freebies list most of the legitimate offers available. If you’re a Twitter user, check the #freesample hashtag to see the top offers being tweeted about and find the freebie experts to follow for regular updates. On Facebook, follow your favorite brands and local stores to find out when they’re giving out free samples.

And check DealNews' freebie page regularly to see all the hottest free deals! In addition to coupons, downloads, and magazine subscriptions, there are many product samples.

When free isn’t exactly free

Many legitimate free sample offers require you to do more than just fill out a form. Some companies that offer free samples, like Vocalpoint, require recipients to fill out surveys either before or after they receive samples. And many of the free sample offers listed at the aggregator sites are actually sweepstakes, where you aren’t guaranteed to receive a free sample just by signing up; you’ll be part of a random drawing instead. Always read the fine print when requesting a free sample online, so you know what you’re agreeing to, and how companies will be using your information.

Unfortunately, many free sample offers are actually scams, where spammers — or worse, identity thieves — can get access to your personal information. Here are some things to look out for:

  • You need to pay shipping or handling, or enter your credit card and go through a checkout process.
  • There’s no privacy policy on the website.
  • The required information seems excessive: a portion of your social security number, phone number, sharing friends’ and family contact info, etc.
  • You’ve never heard of the company and the website looks less-than-professional.

Managing freebies

An easy way to manage the email you’ll be getting once you start signing up for company loyalty programs and free sample offers is to create a separate email address just for free samples. Or, if you want to keep everything in one place but don’t want to clog up your inbox with promotional emails, create special filters and folders for sites you’ve signed up for.

Jessica Hulett is a contributing writer for DealNews, where this article first appeared:

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