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The Psychology of Free

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Do you like free stuff? People like to receive free items or services, whether it be a free sample at the supermarket, a complimentary trial of software, or a bonus item with a purchase. Freebies trigger something deep within us. There’s some interesting psychology behind what makes the concept of “free” so powerful. 

Let’s look into the psychology of free and how it’s a big tool for businesses to drive their sales and marketing.

The zero price effect

The main factor behind free things is the “zero price effect”. It basically states that, when a good or service is offered for free, the demand for it skyrockets. This is a direct tool for our emotional wiring. Look at it this way, if you get something for free, you don’t care to look at its value or risk, since you haven’t spent anything, you’re also not going to feel any losses from it either. This effect clearly explains why companies opt to give out items for free rather than discounting them, even though they have the same value and risk.

Why do we love free stuff?

Now, let’s look into the basics – why do we love free stuff? In normal conditions of society, we often have to give something in return for another thing. This is basic economics and how society works. But when we get something without giving up anything, it awakens a sense of joy or euphoria within us. 

When you offer something for free with a good reason, customers will choose it in the hopes that they’ll like it and buy the whole package. That’s why you see all kinds of free samples being handed out in convenience stores and supermarkets. It may cost the business a fraction of their overall expense, but the returns are quite promising for them. 

The whole idea behind “free stuff” lies in the principle of reciprocity. It means that one party feels obliged to return the favour given to them by complying with the other. This is the main tactic used by companies, where they give out free items or services in hopes that the customer will be more loyal to the company or their brand.

Types of “free”

Not all free stuff is actually free. Companies use a wide range of “free” tactics to lure customers into trying their products. It’s a part of their marketing funnel – the “attention” part. 

When you see something for free, you pay more attention to why the company is giving it for free. Is it bad? Is the company celebrating something? This creates a word-of-mouth form of advertising and creates a buzz around the companies’ products.

So, what are the different kinds of “free stuff” that companies try to promote?

  • Buy one, get one free. This is the most common tactic used by companies to attract customers. This is when you buy a product and get a second item at a discounted or free price. Consumers love that you get more than what you pay for, often due to fear of missing out, so it can boost sales revenue and create positive signals among consumers.
  • Free trials. Free trials are given out by most software companies. They give you a free trial of a month or a week so that you can use their services without any commitment. It’s a great opportunity to figure out whether it’s the right option for you. You can find free trials all over the place, such as bonus codes at online casinos that offer free spins or a chance to play without wagering anything, or free weeks from music or movie streaming platforms. Just make sure you don’t sign up for a subscription and forget to cancel before the first payment kicks in!
  • Freemium. It is a type of business model where a company offers its basic services free of charge, but then charges extra, either on a subscription-based or one-time, for additional “premium” features. This is widely done for games and mobile apps, where the basic features are accessible to everyone but paying for an extra feature improves their overall experience.

Bottom line: is free stuff bad?

The bottom line is that giving out freebies is important for businesses to increase their trustworthiness and customer base. Giving away something for free increases the overall joy of customers and makes them more loyal to the company. However, whether it is priced or free, you should always look out for its pros and cons and make the best decision that keeps you happy and satisfied. So, the next time you see a free offer, remember there’s much more going on behind the scenes than just generosity.




Tim Williamson, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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