Costco Crowds

Have you ever found yourself at a Costco on a Saturday afternoon fighting the crowds and contemplating abandoning your cart and just running out of the store to avoid losing your sanity?  This happened to me recently, and although I was tempted to run out of the store screaming, I opted to power through.  Then, while I waited a few minutes (literally) for a chance to push my way back into the main aisle I looked around to see what was causing the traffic jam and was surprised to see a long line at a sampling booth was the culprit.  You would think based on the crowds of people they were giving out a free Rolex, but I’m sure it was probably just pizza rolls or wontons.  I also found it fascinating the roles that people take when trying to get that most likely partially frozen mini quiche and how in some instances survival instincts kick in when the ding of the toaster oven goes off.  All is fair in love and war … and free samples?

There have been many studies on the impact of free on society and I recently found an article from Priceconomics.com that referenced a NYC nightclub that offered free tattoos, and 68% of the folks waiting in line said they wouldn’t be getting a tattoo if it were not for free.  Incredible- you don’t have to wait for the ink to dry (pun intended) in this case to see the power of free.  The Priceconomics.com article also cited the Free Hugs campaign which they found was often met with skepticism.  It got me thinking – how is it that a free sample at Costco which is clearly a sales tactic is okay, but a free hug causes you to pause and question motive?

Power of Free Stuff

This was particularly interesting for me since I felt an immediate connection to the promotional products industry.  In the promo products world, we spend a fair amount of time trying to find products for our clients to give away at events.  We thoughtfully source giveaways in order to drive a positive, emotional, connection between a brand and a customer.  We call these Brand Love moments.  We’re working to try to elevate the industry and show the true value products can have instead of just being considered junk at a booth that will get tossed.  So how do you create the Costco feeding frenzy for your brand?  I think the answer is pretty simple – focus on products that YOU would want, have a unique story, and be memorable.

Don’t always opt for the obvious suspects like a pen or a koozie and instead consider finding a slightly more unique option that is a fun conversation starter.  And if I learned anything from the free waffle line at Costco, it is that better doesn’t always have to mean expensive.  Products like Popsockets and fidget spinners are budget-friendly while still being buzzworthy. If you find a product that provides value for your target recipient, odds are that the connections you do make will be far more powerful than a basic handout.

For me, although free stuff will always draw someone in, it can sometimes backfire if you are not thoughtful in your approach.  Because at the end of the day, it is about retention and making yourself memorable.  If you give someone a free mini waffle, chances are your brand love moment will only last as long as that bite does.  At Boundless, we recognize the power of free and how you can harness it to create creative and lasting Brand Love moments.

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