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20-40-60 Etiquette: How about free samples?
BY CALLIE GORDON, LILLIE-BETH BRINKMAN, HELEN FORD WALLACE | Published: February 22, 2012
QUESTION: Is it ethical to take free samples companies offer and use them for a craft project or another personal use that has nothing to do with the product? A recent post I saw on the social media site Pinterest suggested a cute, “free and easy” way to make bookmarks out of store paint-chip samples. These samples are distributed to customers who need to match colors in their homes before they buy paint.
When a reader questioned whether it was OK to take a handful or more of those samples for crafts, other readers accused her of being “negative.” I thought the initial reader's question was valid: Is it OK to take free samples of a company's product to use for any reason? What about taking several samples of something you have no intention of buying?
CALLIE'S ANSWER: Ethical, no. Good idea, yes. Would I do it? No. What is it with people standing in line for a free pen? If they give it to you, yes by all means take it. Taking more than is offered is rude. There is always going to be someone that takes advantage of something free.
LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: The first thing to do in this situation is ask the store manager whether that's a possibility, explaining exactly what you're trying to do with the samples. Often the store doesn't have a problem with people doing this if they ask.
But when someone posts something on a social media site such as Pinterest, good ideas tend to spread quickly, and a single post can result in many people requesting a lot of samples for a craft project. After a company finds its supply of free samples consistently depleted because of reasons that don't lead to purchases, its managers might decide to start charging for the samples or stop offering them.
“Free” samples aren't free for the people offering them — companies pay for them, whether small or large businesses — and I don't think it's right just to help yourself because you think you're entitled to take them. The Pinterest post was reposted several thousand times. What also bothered me were the angry comments directed at people who questioned the idea of taking free samples, accusing them of being “negative.” This question was worth raising from an ethical standpoint. Good etiquette dictates that when we take an action, we consider how it might affect other people and not just ourselves.