Everyone loves getting something for free. Soon, you may have to look no further than your mailbox for a free sample. The U.S. Postal Service is offering consumer package goods companies and other direct mailers a discount on sending product samples in the mail through the end of September.

“They’ll buy it, if they try it” is how the Postal Service is marketing its Product Samples mail promotion. It would seem that many marketers agree with that tagline.  A marketing expert quoted in a recent article in Marketplace called sending samples “perhaps the single most effective marketing method there is, especially for new products.” But difficulty in measuring samples’ success, and a rise over the years in postage for sending samples through the mail, has made it something of a lost art. Some former users of product samples say the Postal Service’s pricing changes in the late 1990s helped kill this mail product.

Product samples have some challenges, however. One is how best to track sales leads from the distribution of a sample product. For example, a company handing out shampoo at a gym might not know if the sample was the reason someone later bought the shampoo. Marketers frequently include coupons or directions to an online offer. Coupons are ideal accompaniments to a mailed product sample, allowing the company to track response of the offer. The bigger challenge may be finding a workable price for product samples. The Postal Service needs to be able to find a price at which the product makes money, but is not so high as to make it unattractive to marketers.

Still, the biggest boon to the Postal Service might be in how Product Samples increase the value of mail. You can’t send a product sample by text message or email. The Postal Service has designed Product Samples to raise awareness of its Simple Samples offering, which gives users flat-rate pricing, volume discounts, and simpler mail-preparation requirements, including no need for outer packaging. Keeping it simple should help as well.

How do you feel about receiving samples in the mail? Are you more likely to purchase something if you have a favorable reaction to a sample? Could a resurgence of marketers using sampling techniques help improve the value of mail?

Comments (8)

  • anon

    I just want to get some free samples so I decide whether or not I like a product there's a lot of products out there that I have not sure about buying unless I try it yet

    Oct 01, 2017
  • anon

    it's agreeable that the majority of consumers are advocates of saving dollars. so a coupon is more likely than not to encourage a sell. is it really necessary to have a direct accounting of a coupon receipt or free sample that lead a consumer to make a purchase. i think these sheets and books of coupons i get in the mail weekly are waste and abuse of the system.

    Nov 25, 2013
  • anon

    I love free samples

    Nov 08, 2013
  • anon

    free samples always nice so you can try different things,then know what to buy.

    Aug 30, 2013
  • anon

    The USPS' revenue depends on whether users find postal products worthwhile and worth the cost when compared to alternative ways to communicate or deliver. The Postal Service is not a marketing company, but a vehicle by which companies (and individuals) can market, communicate, distribute. Some companies will find sending samples through the mail a valuable way to reach customers. Some recipients will find the free samples useful, others won't. But let's give marketers are reason to try mail. I think the Postal Service should be applauded for launching a test service that attempts to gauge interest in samples by mail, and hopefully help it determine the correct pricing. The Postal Service is primarily a commercial operation with almost 97% of the mailstream involving a business transaction of some kind. It is time to update the business model to reflect the realities.

    Aug 27, 2013
  • anon

    I personally would enjoy receiving free samples in the mail. I agree with the author that people love getting stuff for free and trying out something new that I wouldn't have bought outright might drive me to purchasing the product. Hopefully this WILL do something to enhance the value of mail, since samples are really something that can only be sent through the mail and not through digital means - another excellent point the author makes. Also, it seems as if some businesses are already taking advantage of this "sampling". There are plenty of monthly "boxes" (such as BirchBox, Nature Box, Bark Box, etc) that people subscribe to in order to be sent new things to try in the mail. These businesses seem to be doing alright, but imagine how great it would be if it were all free for the receiver!

    Aug 27, 2013
  • anon

    I look forard to trying this free example

    Aug 27, 2013
  • anon

    The more appropriate question here is why is the USPS offering these discounts. Is the Postal Service a marketing company, an advertising company? The focus here is simply wrong and demonstrates why much of the mission of the Postal Service has been ignored while it has become a lapdog to the direct mail industry. What's next, helping journalists find more interesting and exciting ways to report and present magazines to increase volumes? Or perhaps a campaign to educate people on the mail value of paying their bills late - it does generate more mail volume in second notices? As far as the topic here - my experience is that most customers trash samples, a few use them, and a very few actually make a product decision based on them. They're an annoyance, difficult to deliver, and in some cases easy to tamper with. The Postal Service has abandoned any pretense at public service and nothing demonstrates that more than initiatives like this.

    Aug 26, 2013

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