Bobbi of Montreal, Canada was known in certain online crafting forums as ultimate free sample troll. You were a crafting nonentity if you hadn’t received a sample request from Bobbi. In March 2004, I became an honorary member as notorious Canadian finally paid me a visit. It was a simple missive with a subject heading that read: “samples.” Uh oh, that free sample troll, I thought. Yup, brief text read: “please send samples and catalogue to: [address].”
As owner of a handcrafted [meaning I make everything myself!] bath & body products site, I don’t send out free samples. Nor do I have a print catalogue. Obviously Bobbi hadn’t read my site’s policies section on my “About” page as it clearly stated that a free sample accompanied a paid order.
Last year on one of my soapmaking groups I went through archives and learned that Bobbi of Canada was a legendary free sample troll. She prowled ‘net in search of free soap, bath & body products, gourmet cookies, and small handmade gift items. Obviously Bobbi searched far and wide for freebies as one soapmaker posted this: “We got same email…all way over in Australia! I sent an email back letting Bobbi know that we were willing to provide samples as long as they covered postage and handling and paid a $20.00 samples fee. No reply!”
However, while Bobbi was first free sample troll to contact me, I soon became aware of others. I learned that free sample trolls were often proficient in doling out flattery. Here’s an excerpt from a Mavis of Florida: “Your products sound wonderful – would it be possible to request a catalog or brochure? Also, your coconut soap sounds absolutely enticing! May I request a small sample of this soap?” Wonder why ol’ Mavis was writing to me? That last sentence was clincher – she wanted to ingratiate herself and by doing so get ol’ something for nothing. It didn’t work though because my policy was a very firm – no free samples. As a soapmaker, I ran a small business not a large charity.
She wrote back requesting a special order product and when I gave her quote there was no reply. Until a few months later. By now I had a fully working web site with a PayPal shopping cart. She didn’t use shopping cart, instead sending me a request for some soaps, offering to pay for it via check [uh oh!] and wanting it sent regular mail in order to save $1.92. Naturally she expressed a wish for a free sample, even specifying which soap was to be freebie. She ended her mock order with: “P.S. I wish I could buy more but at this time, it's so hard. I just had a wedding for my daughter and bills are piling up. So you know how that is.”
Actually, I don’t have any children, so no. But if Floridian had just paid for a wedding, what heck was an additional TEN DOLLARS including her discounted shipping?
Almost two weeks passed before she wrote back, using an excuse about her server going down. She revised her e-mail order [again, bypassing shopping cart], lowering amount to $7. A check was promised. It never came.
Free sample trolls devalue a product that often takes hours to craft, not to mention amount of research and development that goes into creating that product. Time spent answering fantasy requests detracts from an online shop owner’s business earnings. Freebie hunters probably don’t bother to think about such incidental details. All they want is gratification of knowing that someone gave them a product that they never intended to purchase. While some people genuinely are interested in buying a product and do need to try it firsthand, most of serial free sample trolls only want something that requires no money or effort from them.
Last August Jennifer from Kansas contacted me: “I am a person with extremely sensitive skin that is in search of products that do not cause my skin to burn and itch. If possible could you please send me a catalog of your products as well as a few small samples for me to try. Any help that you can give me will be greatly appreciated. My address is:” Upon receiving a pleasant e-mail about my no free sample policy and fact that for a few dollars she could receive a product, there was no more correspondence from Jennifer!