Thoughts on free food samples and consumables to munch on

There is an article in the New York Times that ponders the line between frugality and stealing. The writer is uncertain if her habit of taking travel sizes of shampoo and other bath products from hotels is considered stealing, and quotes from other finance and frugality blogs that eating a meal out of food samples (in grocery stores, for example) is not acceptable.

From a marketer’s perspective, there is nothing wrong with taking what is offered to you by hotels and food manufacturers. In fact, they would probably be the first ones to encourage you to take these products that are meant for you to consume. Why? The more you engage with a product, the more real estate they occupy in your mind, which may compel you to purchase, and more critically, repeat your purchases.

For example, most hotel stays end the day you check out, unless you had an amazing experience in the hotel and you tell your friends about your stay there. Most people would recount stories of their travels, not their hotel stays. Where you stayed becomes insignificant when you arrive home, something that gets buried deep into recesses of your memory to its disappearance. But, say, you run out of shampoo and your stock cabinet at home doesn’t have a spare to replenish your supply, temporarily you will probably be using those travel-sized products. Usually these products have the hotel’s name printed on them, and by using this product, you will not only get to read the hotel name, but most likely you will remember your stay(s) at the hotel and reminisce the experience in the shower.

I sometimes go with my mother, sister or aunt to Costco and the first thing I look for are those old ladies in cafeteria hair nets who give out free food samples of cheese, ravioli, sausage, chips and salsa, more cheese, chocolate, ice cream, and fruit juice. If I like a particular product, I take the liberty to repeat the samples, sometimes more than twice. I don’t consider this stealing, since these food products are offered freely to anyone who happens to pass by, and there isn’t a sign limiting the number of samples one can take. Marketers love the idea of shoppers clamoring for free samples, since this not only increases the impression of a brand on shoppers, but it can potentially create a buzz that will intrigue others to do the same– ultimately, increased interactions converts into increased sales.

If food manufacturers actually dislike the idea of shoppers running back to the stand to munch on more samples, they would explicitly say this somewhere, much like food products that are currently on a coupon promotion are accompanied by “Limit two per person/household.”

My mother also takes home those shampoo and consumable bath products that we have a growing collection at home. When I asked her why she does that, she said, “There will be a need for this when we travel, trust me.” Now, most of the traveling I do involves hotel stays or stays with relatives who usually have a drop of shampoo to spare for my hair when I need it. To where will she be bringing those travel-sized products? When she stays at a makeshift hut with no windows and has only four pieced-together wooden slats for a bathroom, lacking in travel-sized shampoo? Now that is the bigger question.


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