Freebies: to give or not to give…

Matchbook notepad giveaways from MontClairMade

…that is the question of today’s blog.  There are certainly pros and cons to giving freebies away with customer orders so we’ll explore both sides, give some ideas on unique ways to gift your buyers if you choose to go that route along with some important considerations.

The Benefits:

First let’s talk about the positives.  We all know that receiving a little something extra can be a nice surprise and can make a customer feel special and appreciated.  Many sellers would argue that this personal touch is one of the things that separates us from big-scale manufacturers.  “I think it is an integral part of excellent customer service,” says Claire of MontClairMade.

One buyer on the forums had this to say (name removed for anonymity):

“If it’s any help to you, I’m currently a buyer only and some of the freebies I’ve received from Etsians have included a gift tag, a post card, a mini greeting card and a money-off-future-purchases voucher. None of these were advertised and came as such a pleasant surprise – it made me feel valued as a customer and added a lovely personal touch. None of the items were expensive and it’s not something I ever expect to receive, but those small gestures really set the Etsy experience apart from buying mass-produced from big brands.”

From MontClairMade

Giving away a little something with your order is also a way to advertise your business (provided you add your logo/company name/web address to it) as it may end up in someone else’s hands.  It can also help you introduce new items you have in your shop or are planning to launch.  Sometimes freebies can help you promote the other items in your shops as some customers find the item they’ve purchased by way of an Etsy search but perhaps they didn’t browse the rest of your shop.  And freebies can also help you promote a secondary shop, should you have one (I personally have had success this way when including freebies from my handmade shop with orders from my supplies shop thereby informing my customer of my other shop).

Mary from MaryZoom sends out a set of stickers that she has made out of recycled magazine pages (check out her tutorial here!)

Claire of MontClairMade often uses items that are her experiments.  “This week I made vintage sewing pattern paper doll gift tags that I’m going to use exclusively for give-aways.  See the fabulous tags here

And while it may cost money or time to make or include freebies, many see it as money and/or time well spent; a reinvestment in your business, as you will.

From MaryZoom

The Drawbacks:

The most oft cited reason that some sellers choose not to include freebies is the cost associated and the cut into profit margin.  This certainly can be the case if you aren’t smart about how you go about doing this.   It is essential that you calculate time and cost associated with freebies and what percentage of the total order this amounts to.  For example, if you make and sell a $5 item, a $1 freebie is 20% of your sale so you need to be extra careful and give your freebies some extra thought and consideration to ensure that they don’t cut into your profits too much.

If you run a handmade shop (as opposed to vintage or supplies), sometimes a freebie isn’t so much a cost issue as it is a time issue.  This will often depend on the type of shop you run.  If you create items that take several hours to make, it may be hard to determine what could possibly be sent as a freebie.  Or if you make high-end items, sending a small gift that fits in with your theme and doesn’t cheapen your line can also be a challenge.

Another drawback of freebies is receiving items that aren’t useful and end up in trash; the last thing us EcoEtsians would want.

Said another (anonymous) buyer in the forums, “I prefer NOT to receive a free gift (but I am all for the coupons for your next order).   I know that if the seller is properly pricing, then they have to factor in those free gifts. That makes it not free, just something that I may not want that drives up the price of the item I want. Also, I try really hard to not accumulate a lot of junk in the house (often a losing battle), so if the gift is something I don’t really want, it is will likely get tossed.”

And of course, there’s always the question of whether freebies translate to more sales down the road.  “I’m not sure it has helped much. I know my customers appreciate it, and I have a feeling that many of them spread the word, but there’s often a gap between “spreading the word,” and “getting an order.”  Sometimes it just doesn’t get that far,” says Yancy of 5Seed.

From Alex Keller


If you do decide to give away freebies, you’d be wise to give much thought and and consideration to what you include.  “I have always sent something small as an extra as my business philosophy (and life philosophy, I guess) is to give more than expected, but I have tried to be more strategic in terms of extras,” says Mary of MaryZoom.

If you are going to include a freebie with your order, it’s important to treat it as a promotional item and add as much of your logo/shop name/web address as possible.  If needed, you can order a small, custom-made stamp or stickers to tag your items with as a way of keeping your business fresh in the minds of your customers (or to promote your shop to people who might receive your freebie).

From 5Seed

Because I make a lot of small, inexpensive paper products like stickers, cards, and gift tags using reused materials, most of the time my items don’t cost me hardly anything but time (which is very valuable to many people and can be a tight commodity in itself).  However, I always make a bunch extra whenever I’m making items so that when I’m sending out an order, I can go to my freebie area and grab something to put in my package.  Photo cards are a bit more expensive and something I send with more expensive orders or with repeat customers, but I figure that they’ll send the photo card to someone else who will not only see my work, but my logo and web address and I see it as a way to promote my shop to someone new.

When sending a freebie, it’s important to mention it in your thank you card or with a note so that the customer knows more about the item and whether you are carrying it in your shop.

Some sellers will wrap gifts and add a gift tag so that if the item is for the customer purchasing, they feel like it’s a special gift or if they are purchasing it as a gift for someone else, you’ve taken care of this detail and made it that much easier for your customer to gift the item to someone else.

For those who run vintage shops, the challenge may lie in what to send.  Some suggestions on the forums included vintage ephemera, vintage postcards or buttons like Mary of ResourceQueen (same owner of MaryZoom) does.  “For my vintage supply shop/pattern shop, I put a business card in a little clear cello envelope and an assortment of buttons from my stash,” she says.

From Resource Queen

Alex  of VintagebyAlexKeller says, “with the vintage shop, I made buttons/badges from images punched out of vintage children’s books…but since I’ve run out of those, I’ve been giving vintage recipe cards, paper ephemera, or little pins and brooches that I have in my collection of jewelry that I use in my work.  I also love paper and have rolls of vintage wallpaper.  I plan to make envelope seals out of them to use in my packaging and  might start giving some of those out as free gifts.”

Another consideration for those who choose to gift is to create a spreadsheet listing what items you include with each order so that you can claim it as a promotional cost when filing your taxes (this also helps you know what you’ve sent to repeat customers so they don’t get the same freebie the next time they order).

From Vintage by Alex Keller

If you do partake in freebies, it’s important that you keep this practice consistent as many people will note it in your feedback and future buyers may feel left out if nothing extra is sent to them.  And also make sure to consider the weight and size of your freebie as it may add to your shipping costs.  You also want to determine where the cost, if any, will come from; will you raise prices to cover it, will you take the cost out of your profits or will you count it as part of your “advertising/promotions”  budget?

If the items you sell don’t translate well into freebies, consider making/ordering note cards or other usable items that promote your shop.   â€œStarting next week, I’ll be including 5 vegetable or flower seeds in a paper seed envelope with all orders, which is perfect, as my store is called Five Seed,” says Yancy.  “Lately I’ve started making little paper bookmarks that are punched out on my cuttlebug.  That way I can stamp my business name on the back with my vintage rubber stamp (the kind you put the little letters in) says Mary.  I once received a cool postcard from a fellow Etsian and although it promoted her business, it was funky enough to be used and that’s just what I did!

If you are an artist, consider making ACEO’s/ATC’s with artwork on one side and business info/contact on the other side.  This way your card is more likely to be kept around if it has compelling artwork and is less likely to contribute to more paper waste.  Or you can send your thank-you notes on paper that is seeded with wildflowers – this way you kill two birds with one stone by thanking and gifting your customer at the same time and in an eco-friendly way.

From 5Seed

Or if you can’t afford the cost/time associated with freebies in each order, consider doing what Claire does.  “In my listing descriptions I include a paragraph encouraging people to tell me how they found my shop and if they do I’ll include a free gift.”  Doing so gives Claire some valuable marketing information in exchange for the give away.

Finally, if your business does not lend to giving away freebies but you want a way to thank your customers and encourage repeat business, consider including your business card with a coupon code for a certain percentage off or free shipping on future orders.

From MontClairMade

At the end of the day, you need to weigh the pros and cons of giving away freebies and determine if it makes good business sense for you, your shop and your budget.  If you wish to gift and are struggling to come up with ideas that suit your shop, leave a comment below and the team will put our collective heads together to give you some ideas!

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  1. I always add in something extra in my packages to my customers like an extra art print, gift tag or postcard with my illustrations. I think 70% of my sales are at least return customers. They feel encouraged to buy something similar or choose a new product based on the samples I included in their previous package. It really does make a difference!

    As an etsy shopper myself, I love it when another artist sends me an extra art print (it could even be an ACEO or small art). Like you said, anything that is useful to keep. I do admit throwing away shop stickers and business cards or shop magnets…that only advertises the shop name.

  2. I love the idea of sending a cupon code with my business cards, that is truly the best tip for those of us who run a much smaller shop but still want to do a little something. I’ll be including that from now on. And who knows, if business grows from it I might just need to take some of these other tips to heart too so thank you! This was awesome :-)

  3. This post is perfectly timed. I have been considering sending a small token of appreciation with each purchase but have wondered if it would be worth it. Thanks for gathering the thoughts of other etsy sellers and buyers and putting them in one spot! I am still on the fence but feel I have a bit more knowledge on the subject. Thanks!

  4. Magnificent! You have just convinced me to add a small gift to every purchase… starting… now.