“To be effective, we needed to give products away for
free,” he said.
While Schutz was cautioned against giving away
free items, he was confident it would have a positive
return on investment. He was right, as customers
who use the $2 coupon typically spend up to six times
that amount on other items in the store, he said. The
free bimonthly items also have a positive ROI. “The
amount of money I give away is staggering. But at the
end of the day, I have loyal customers,” he said.
Customers value the rewards so much that they
regularly engage in conversation with store employees
to find out what the next free product will be. “Every
two weeks, I have loyal customers who come in for
their free product. I now have a captive audience that
I can show what else we have in the store,” he said.
Free offers are necessary at a time of heightened
c-store competition, Schutz said. “Consumers have
a tremendous amount of choices for gas and c-store
items,” he said. “I need to find a way that they can be
loyal to me.”
Coffee and Donuts
Even a free cup of coffee goes a long way toward
building loyalty. This is a strategy more c-stores are
using to drive store traffic and hot beverage sales,
said George Shoemaker, vice president of sales at
The Biz of Coffee, a consulting firm.
Due to increased hot beverage competition not
only from other c-stores, but also other foodservice
operators such as Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s and
Starbucks, convenience stores are beefing up their
coffee programs by sourcing better roasters and
The c-store coffee business is growing so much that
Wawa, Sheetz and many other stores participated in
International Coffee Day on September 29 by giving
out free cups of coffee. Wawa expected to give away
more than 1 million free cups of coffee to customers
across all of its stores. It promoted the event with
t-shirt giveaways and in-store signage.
In addition to coffee, retailers are rewarding
shoppers with other exclusive products, such as
donuts. In celebration of National Donut Day (June
5), Sheetz, for instance, offered free Shweetz private-brand donuts to loyalty card holders.
From October 12 to 18, 7-Eleven offered free coffee
or any other hot beverage to its 7Rewards loyalty club
members. Rewards club members could receive their
daily free cup by scanning the 7-Eleven mobile app on
their smartphone when checking out.
“Just like free Slurpee drinks on 7-Eleven Day,
Free Coffee Week gives us another chance to thank
our loyal customers,” Laura Gordon, 7-Eleven vice
president of marketing and brand innovation, said
in a statement. “And 7-Eleven coffee customers
are some of our most loyal, many stopping in every
single morning for a hot, fresh-brewed cup.”
While it may be difficult to calculate the precise
ROI on giveaways, most retailers agree that
the profits far outweigh the cost of investment.
C-stores benefit not only in terms of gaining
new and loyal customers, but also in other ways,
including getting free advertising when the media
covers the giveaways. Free products also create
goodwill and generate positive word of mouth.
After all, who doesn’t like to get something for
Carol Angrisani is a New York-based writer who has
been covering the food and beverage industries for more
than 20 years. Visit her on Twitter at @carolangrisani1.
Enjoy your next cup on us
On the one hand it can be
painful to give away the
product you work so hard
to sell. But the marketing
bounce can be significant.
Customers who have tried
your new breakfast sandwich
or your new fair trade coffee,
for example, may be more
likely to buy it. So how do
you get the most for that
Make Them Relevant.
If you’re doling out free
samples, make sure they have
something to do with what
you are trying to learn and
accomplish. There’s not much
sense in a bike shop handing
out ice cream cones. It may
buy good will, but it doesn’t
Do customers loop back for
more? Do they eventually
buy? If not, determine whether
you are targeting the right
customers. Circle back if you can
to ask why they did not follow
up with a purchase. As with
all aspects of the business, a
successful free-sample campaign
should be numbers-driven to
whatever extent possible.
Target Your Recipients.
Think long and hard about what
to give away, when to give it
away and to whom. Getting
the right sample into the right
hands at the right time makes
more sense than launching a
free-for-all sample campaign.
Free Samples: Worth the Effort?