Should You Provide Free Product to eCommerce Bloggers?

Should_you_give_free_productAs an eCommerce marketer if you haven’t gotten the pitch, you soon will. “I’ve got a huge following and would love to review your products.” Before you jump at the offer of a lifetime read one of our client’s experiences.

This is how the pitch started. Checking out her website validated what she was saying. With an Alexa rank under 10k and over 150k Facebook fans and even more Twitter followers it seemed like our perfect advocate for our direct to patient private pay eCommerce business: A busy mom who just broke her ankle. She could not bear weight and after a few days she knew she could not bear crutches. She had seen our solutions on our website and they fit her needs. She offered to write and post a separate

She had found us through our blog. Our solutions would clearly fit her needs. She offered to write and post a separate 500-word blog about each one of our products if she could use them at no cost during her 8-week recovery. Excited, we packed up a knee scooter and filled the box with every product that could help her recovery: a shower bench, a cast protector, a comfy toe cover. We even included a return shipping label so when she was finished with the $400 crutch alternative she could easily return it. Everything arrived on her doorstep the next day. We followed up as we do for all our customers with a courtesy call, helpful emails to nurture the relationship and even sent a hand signed get well card. As the weeks turned into months, we heard nothing and saw nothing on her blog. After 8 weeks, she blogged about being back on both feet, but still no response to our ever more frequent calls and emails. When after 10 weeks we finally got in touch with the blogger we were amazed by her response.

    • I don’t have time to review everything I’m given
    • My audience isn’t interested in your products
    • When you send me items to evaluate they are gifts and become my property
    • I have 8 kids, this is my  livelihood
    • If you push it, I’ll write a bad review

We had a paper trail of emails full of the mutual understandings and commitments. Ultimately we could not control what she chose to do, only what we were ready to do. If the equipment was not returned within 10 days we’d file a stolen property report with the local police and start a case with her local Better Business Bureau. The equipment promptly returned and to date we have not seen any negative blog. Will we ever offer free product for evaluation again?  You bet!

Here is what we learned and what you might consider before you provide free evaluation product to a blogger.

1.  Understand their blog and business model

Is this someone who is doing this as a hobby to get free stuff or is this a professional site? Check who is to confirm who owns the domain. Checking with the Better Business Bureau should also give you insight into who they are and how they have operated in the past. Look at recent blogs, especially blogs that reviewed products and services. Are they mostly fluff pieces in that everything has a glowing review? Will your product be compared to other similar products? Does your niche fit their audience?

2.  Define ownership of the samples

If the device being evaluated is of minimal value, perishable or a single use device you may consider this overkill. Who would return a sample bottle of perfume, a brownie mix or a stick of deodorant. Yet if the device being evaluated is a limited prototype, what one person views as nominal may be priceless to the other party. Best to avoid any misunderstanding on whether that Mustang convertible was a gift.

3.  Define deliverables.

Consultants have learned the necessity of agreeing on what success looks like before anything else starts. Setting the expectations of what each party commits to from the beginning  is vital to both parties being happy with the outcome. Make sure it’s clear what both parties are to do and by when. In the future, we will make it clear before shipping anything what product is to be provided, when it will arrive and when and how it will get back to us. We will provide any assistance in researching the blog including images, quotes and availability to answer questions via phone or email. The blogger will need to a agree to a 500-word blog with at least 3 follow links using keywords provided. There will be a reasonable and mutually agreed to a due date for a first draft and publishing date.

4. Request editorial review

Investing money in a positive review is money well spent, but what if it ends up begin a less than glowing review. Do you want to pay for bad press? While it may sound cruel  or unethical  you can learn from pharmaceutical companies that routinely include a “veto” clause in the publications or presentation of studies they fund. Big pharma may pay for many studies, but you can not use it against them if they don’t agree with the outcome (i.e. it doesn’t support them). Even having the editorial review to temper some wording or being able to explain a misunderstanding prior to publication can make for a happier outcome for all involved.

5. Get a security deposit

If the sample is of any value you will want to ensure you will get your property back in good condition. This could mean a legal contract, but for our business we just ask for a valid credit card to be held as a security deposit. Nothing will be charged unless the terms of the agreement are not met. If the sample is not returned by a mutually agreed to date, we assume the reviewers intent to purchase the device and will charge accordingly.

Do you provide free samples to bloggers?

What controls do you have in place to ensure it’s mutually profitable?