The last time I went to buy from the cosmetics chain L’Occitane en Provence, I had to wait patiently for my turn to pay. The person in front of them changed their purchasing decisions at the time of payment. His customer card gave him access to two gifts, but making a single purchase he could only get one.

So he divided what he already had to arrive with a minimum purchase to access one of the gifts and then completed the other to reach a second minimum and access the other. In the end, he spent a lot more than he originally planned, but he managed to rack up all the possible free gifts.

Possibly, in strictly economic terms, the person in question had spent much more than he was really willing to spend at first. Perhaps he might even wonder if what he had spent made up for him for accessing those two gifts. Be that as it may, the truth is that the store came out quite happy.

L’Occitane is one of those chains that handle points systems and product gifts very well to build customer loyalty. At that time, and as a buyer who had to wait extra time, I couldn’t help but judge the person in question a bit.

However, a couple of days later I found myself buying some socks at Women’Secret , socks that I really didn’t need that much, because my card balance was going to expire, those ‘free’ euros that the chain gives you for future purchases with each product purchased.

I was not going to miss this opportunity, my brain told me, to lose something that was going to come out almost for free. Free is one of the most powerful claims that brands can use and one in which, no matter how much it has been explained to us a thousand times and we have analyzed it rationally, we end up falling. Free products and samples make it feel like we’re ‘beating’ the system.

Everything that is associated with them – accumulating previous purchases, reaching previous spending minimums to take the gift or giving a lot of data – seems less important to us. It’s not so bad, we tell ourselves, actually ‘I’m winning’.

The lure of free is so powerful that brands use it as a teaser for brand experiences that are nothing more than ad spam. On my last visit to Madrid, what surprised me the most was, precisely, a space on Gran Vía, in one of the prominent areas.

It was a site where, as a sign posted outside, they offered “free products all year long.” That day, it was a brand of alcoholic beverages that was trying to capture the attention of passers-by. The pull of free products is such, in fact, that there are already vending machines specialized in just that, in giving samples to consumers.

The psychology of free
In general, consumers love free because there is an unconscious bias in favor of it. When they give us something for free, a certain happiness is released and the free also feels like a gift in a world where you have to pay for everything, as they point out in Psychology Today .

To this we must add that when they give us something for free, our specific expectations about that specific gift are initially low, so the experience will always seem better to us.

Another of the effects of free is to make products feel like they have a certain value, at least when what we receive at no apparent cost is an addition to something we buy.

“As consumers believe that the value of free products is likely to be consistent with the value of the purchased product, join a free product with a high – level might well raise their perceptions of value , ” said Mauricio M. Palmeira and Joydeep Srivastava, authors of a study on the perception of free, in their conclusions.

The researchers are focused on analyzing how free products that are given away when buying something expensive – for example, creams or cosmetics from brands like Lancôme or Clinique – impact on the perception of value and found that they increase the overall perceived value.

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