First some info about me: I buy at least one Little Black box every month (If there are a lot of people in the box, I will double up for a bigger cross section, especially around the holidays). I also shop etsy for sampler packs from sellers I find interesting. The category of things I most frequently buy from the samples is bath and body items.
If you send me a free sample of something else yo make with a purchase I already made from you, I will be more likely to return to you for future purchases. If I get a sample I don't like/won't use, I usually put it into a little gift basket I put together for hostess gifts/teacher gifts/last minute gifts, etc.
I have used samples to direct my purchases (or dissuade me from purchasing) many times. Though I do not have a lot of extra income, I do like to pamper myself with handmade items, and whenever possible, prefer to purchase handmade items.
An important piece of advice on samplers: Make sure your item is clearly and securely labeled who it is from. It's always annoying to have to connect business cards with products. If your item is well and clearly labeled with your business, website, and product line, I will be more likely to choose your website of the many I have to choose from to look at first for whatever it is I am looking for.
The biggest place I go to to discover new handmade sellers is Etsy. the next place is eBay. I am not a fan of Artfire, though I am trying. If you supply a sample and you only have a personal website, make sure it is labelled as such, so I can go check it out.
Ok, let's get to it. This will be rough for a while while I just get my thoughts down....
the things I love to get free/cheap and that will almost certainly lead to my making a larger purchase if I love them and they meet my requirements, and why:
Soap - I love handmade soap. It tends not to dry my skin out, and sample sizes are usually the perfect size to use before I get sick of the scent. Offering a lot of samples for sale is a great idea if you sell soaps, because I like to see how a soap goes before committing to a whole bar. Make the sample a decent size, enough for about a weeks worth of washes, so I can get a good idea of how it washes, and if you are providing one sample, please provide a popular scent. If it smells nasty, I will never use the soap. Also (and this is VERY IMPORTANT), include an ingredient list, including the scents you used. I have family and friends who are allergic to nuts, pine, certain herbs, etc. You don't need to tell me the amounts, but would you rather tell me what scents you used and get a customer, or have your soap hit a trash can because I can't know whether or not using it would require an epi pen?
incense - I know this is not a common item to offer in a sample, but if your incense burns clean and maintains the smell it is supposed to, I'll love you. If you make incense, toss a stick or cone into a box with a purchase. I recently had a store do this for me with my permission. I was back the NEXT DAY buying a 20 pack of that incense.
tea - I am a huge tea drinker. EVERY free tea sample I have gotten, except for one has led to a large follow up purchase by me. Again, please say what herbs/spices are in the tea.
perfume - a small one ounce sample using a non-nut oil or alcohol base is best. If it smells good and wears well, expect an order from me....it may be a while if I am using a perishable perfume I need to finish up, but you will hear from me. If it is a scent I do not like, I will gft it to someone I think WILL like it, and if she likes it, she will likely want more.
bath salts - It is so hard to find good hand made bath salts, so if you make them, let us know! Same suggestions as with soap regarding ingredients.
candles (with wicks) - I not only burn a lot of candles, I give a lot of them as gifts. Not everyone likes and/or uses wickless candles, and I got tired of having to explain to people how to use them (they can also be very messy if you only burn them for a short while). I tend to stick with traditional candles, but if you make both, I understand the wickless or tartlet samples, just let people know in your insert/card both how to use them appropriately and that you do wick-ed candles, too.
shampoo/conditioner - Do you know how hard it is to find good quality, handmade hair products? If it works well with my limp, baby fine, super oily hair, I will love you forever.
**A word of advice on bath and body product scents: it makes me and many people I know nervous to use/wear food (Especially chocolate and/or sweets) scented products. I constantly worry I will attract bees, wasps, and/or mosquitoes,a nd that the soaps near the sinks will attract bugs into the house. Chocolate makes me the most nervous. I find I don't even wear Aquolina Pink Sugar because of this. Normally, I would blame my own paranoia, but talking to some other women I know, I find I am not alone in this fear.***
**another word of advice: It's impossible to smell over the internet. I know, duh, but I can't really go by "OOOOh, this smells so decadent" or whatever your description. describe the undertones of the scent, and maybe some of the major things it smells like ("lemony with a hint of amber"). Even better: offer a low-cost sample, if feasible. Sell one tea candle or one soy tart in the scent. Sell a 1-oz sample of the soap. Whatever. heck, I am one of those people who would LOVE to buy your soap ends (and orphan tea candles). Label them up and offer a random 5 pack of .5-1 oz ends for the same price as a 4oz bar. I may not love all of them, but if I like one, it will have been worth my cost, and may net you a bar purchase or 4....you weren't going to do much with those random bar ends anyway, were you?****
Things I like receiving that I MIGHT make a follow up purchase from:
body scrubs - EVERYONE seems to make these. NO ONE includes directions for using them. Also, rubbing sugar on my body seems weird, especially if I don't fell like I am using it right. Aren't I just asking for bugs that are attracted to sugar water? I did end up buying a huge lot of whipped soap for one family member who I gave a sample to, and she went ballistic over, though.
Pet foods/treats - If a friend of mine with dogs likes the sample I give her, I give her the name of the company and/or buy her some for the holidays. I have 3 cats, so I use the kitty treats and toys. If my cats love them, expect to hear from me over the holidays.
lotions - Again, everyone seems to make them. I have very oily skin and live in land of humidity, so I don't use a lot of lotion. A lot of handmade lotions also tend to be very rich and heavy. Unless you do lotion well, be careful about the lotion being your only exposure to a consumer. It takes me a LONG time to get through that little sample jar, even of the whipped stuff, whereas I will blow through your soap in a week. Since I get 2-3 lotions a month, I tend to give these away a lot, too. An exception to this is if you either have those sealed little packets or those tiny twisty jars that are great for taking with you on a plane and only last about a week, or if you send me a coordinating scented sample with a purchase. Again, INGREDIENTS ARE IMPORTANT.
makeup - this includes lip balm. If the make up is good quality and doesn't bother my skin, I might be back, especially if you offer colors/flavors that I haven't seen elsewhere, or if your prices are great. Lip balm is a favorite stocking stuffer for me, and I love flavors that are fun and tasty with balms in creative packaging/labeling that are sturdy. Remember, LIST YOUR INGREDIENTS!!! I am very allergic to artificial sweeteners. I know others who are allergic to other things. ANYTHING that goes on my body, I need to know what's in it.
food/candy - if it's awesome, I will be back. (AGAIN, ingredients are VERY IMPORTANT. I cannot repeat myself or stress this enough)
crocheted items - if you are selling something I need or thing a friend will like, I will appreciate a sample. If it is something a little bit different or creative, I will remember thee xtra time you put into your sample, and it will stand out. Make sure your sample is WELL MADE!! If it falls apart when I wash my face with it, or the colors bleed onto my laundry, face, or countertop, I will not be buying your washcloth set for my friend who is getting married or baby sweater for my other pal's new baby.
sewn items - again, it had better be great quality. If I have a need for something you make, I will remember you and check out your site.
Pens - I know, nobody makes pens, but if you make some sort of item that sending a sample isn't really the most feasible idea, a pen with your website URL, business name and a brief description of what you do is a great idea. I keep the pens and use them. If I am using your pen and look at your business name, and it is for something I might want to get for someone (or myself), there you are right in front of me. I especially love free pens with purchases.
Things (Not already listed above) that I have given to others that have led to sales:
Cards - I am not a card person (I buy Christmas cards 2 boxes for a dollar). Some of my friends and family are. I always make sure if I get a card in a sampler, and give it to someone, where I got the card from is available to them. Many of them have turned around and purchased.
magnets - my fridge is stainless steel and not magnetic. I have given magnets as little gifts and on the tops of gifts as a little topper. At times this has led to turn around sales.
calendars - same as with magnets.
bookmarks - I love to read, but I am again the type to mark my place with a business card. You send a free bookmark sample, I will use it and love it. If someone sees it, I will tell them where I got it.
Keychains - Keychains are a great thing to use to put together a gift, and aree awesome as a sample that coordinates with a purchase. Unfortunately, how many keychains does one need? I usually end up using them in gift packaging.
Things I love to receive in sampler packs that almost NEVER lead to a follow up purchase...though if you include them as a supplement to a purchase I have already made, I will remember you and put you higher on my list for return business:
Jewelry of any type - Jewelry is just too personal a thing, and the samples are always nice, but nothing to make me feel compelled to buy from YOU and not someone else. Also, you just gave me a piece of jewelry, now I don't need one of those. True, if I get a sample from you, I might check out your site when I wouldn't have otherwise, but the likelihood that I will buy from you is very low. If you include a free little pair of earrings or something with a necklace I just bought from you, however, I will DEFINITELY remember you and return if I have a need for another piece.
recycled paper notebooks and/or envelopes - Again, I am not a card person. Most of the little notebooks are too little to really use, and crush easily in my purse. If you make larger, more functional journals, please make it clear in your packaging, (though I rarely buy those either). I basically give those little notebooks to my 6 year old to shut her up when she whines that everything in the mail is for me.
insignificant discounts - a little card with 5% off expiring next month, at best will become a bookmark. 5% off will not drive me to check out your site. 20% plus will. Also, time constraints are tough. I understand the need for them, but allow a few months, especially if I am giving these as a gift to someone who might then wish to make a full-fledged purchase.
Anything that I cannot figure out what it is, how to use it, or what it is for - I think this is pretty self explanatory.
Things that, if you include them in your packaging, I will specifically NOT buy from you again. EVER.:
-why _____________ is wrong/evil/a bad idea
-why _______________ is smarter/better/more ethical
-pretty much anything that is not either a "thank you" note, a receipt, a catalog or list of your goods, a business card, a discount card, and/or a free sample.
In case you were wondering, YES, I do have a "black list"Finally, a thank you:
Thank you all of you wonderful people who make items. Artisan, crafter, whatever you wish to call yourself, thank you. I have received some of the most fabulous items ever from small independent artists. Please keep up the great work. And thank you so very much for that little gift and/or thank you note. it is ALWAYS appreciated.
Ok, I will edit soon. Please forgive the rambling, redundancy, and tangents.