Fast Company

Introducing Freeosk, The Redbox of Free Samples

By automating the process of in-store giveaways, Freeosk aims to create a smarter experience for consumers and companies.

If you're the sort of consumer who heads to Whole Foods or another food market for lunch, you're likely snacking on the free samples dotting the store as you browse. But where others might see a lunchtime quick fix, Matt Eichorn and his cofounders see opportunity. "We thought, God, do you really need a person handing this out? Couldn't there be a more efficient way?" Eichorn recalls. "What killed us most is that there wasn't even data behind the experience."

Eichorn and his team created Freeosk, a sort of Redbox for free samples, which is set to launch next month. By automating the process with elegant design and quality branding, Freeosk, which has raised $6 million in funding, delivers a smarter giveaway experience, free from the awkwardness and inconsistencies of in-person interactions. What's most compelling about the service, however, is the data the company can gather--not only to see who tried what sample but whether it impacted their decision to purchase it later. "We aggregate all the data to see who is engaged and who is converting," Eichorn boasts.

Freeosk, as its name suggests, is a kiosk of free samples. Its all-white frame features shelves of products, along with a scanner and high-definition touchscreen. They could soon become fixtures of major retailers, with brands like Airborne and Snickers featuring their products on Freeosks on a weekly basis. To get a free sample, just swipe your loyalty or membership card, and a free sample will be dispensed immediately. Then, if you decide to purchase the product later, Freeosk will "pair up its data with sales data, to have a clear picture of the adoption process," Eichorn says. "Did you buy the product? Did you continue to buy it? Or did you buy a competitor's?"

It's simple and smart. The key is that it integrates with retailer membership services--"it could be a warehouse membership card, or a Wallgreens or Duane Reade loyalty card," Eichorn says--allowing brands to finally see the impact of their sample touch points. Before, when a customer snatched up a free sample, brands had little if any insight into its affect on sales, at least directly. Did you enjoy that new flavor of Skittles? Were you more likely to purchase it later? Nobody knew.

Worse yet, leaving your brand interactions up to an in-store representative is far from ideal and often risky. Freeosk aims to streamline that process, while providing an eye-catching in-store branding display. (The company acknowledges it's designed for packaged goods, and "not prepared foods like mashed potatoes and chicken wings.") The kiosk appears remade for each individual brand featured, with its screen showing off any associated logos or ad campaigns, and its shelves carrying the company's goods. It's a clean look in a space that's otherwise cluttered and overwhelming.

The Freeosk unit itself comes in several different footprints, depending on its location. The kiosks are supplier funded--paid for by the brands, not the stores. Freeosk will also charge the supplier a "programming fee," which essentially pays Freeosk (the company) to perform everything needed to keep its kiosks operating, from producing the screen ads to replenishing kiosks when free samples run out.

At launch, Freeosk will be available at Sam's Club, the warehouse retail giant. But perhaps more promising is the number of other venues and goods that Eichorn envisions expanding to. It's not much of a leap to imagine Freeosks at gyms or movie theaters; Eichorn could also see offering digital discounts in the future. What's more, the types of goods can be varied: Instead of having to offer some organic quinoa that needs to be eaten immediately, Freeosk could carry goods like pet food or laundry detergent that can be experienced at home.

The fact that it's an opt-in solution--rather than the samples being randomly given out on a street corner or store aisle--makes it more likely that customers will engage, even if only for the novelty.

[Images courtesy of Freeosk]

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8 Comments

  • Jim Litwin

    The data collection element is key here and will be very attractive to the sponsoring brand, but probably 75%+ of the free samples demoed at Sam's Club are prepared at the cart (cooked, cut, portioned or otherwise handled). This will be just fine for shelf-stable products that can be pre-packaged but the Sam's shopper/member has an expectation of prepared samples. Some shop just to talk to someone...

  • Curtis Champion

    Digital screen and free product -- talk about maximizing your floor space. Really interesting concept. Wonder if they'll incorporate NFC and mobile customer loyalty scanning. Seems like the industry is trying to eliminate the physical loyalty/membership card and this might be a little behind the time in that respect.

  • Michelle

    I saw something similar in Asia that started in July 2013. You should check them out. I think it's called vanitytrove or something like that

  • AdTecMike

    If the hardware works as well as it appears to these guys are going to own a whole new element of marketing and consumer analysis, using "free' as their platform.  Incredible idea.  The more you think about it the more you can imagine what they can do with it.  And all the money that's been thrown in the past at free handouts with zero measurement or accountability.

  • webjanet

    What an awesome idea. Knowing if the sample triggered a sale -- or even knowing WHICH of your members are influenced by trial - is powerful data. Can't wait to see this in the marketplace. 

  • Suleman Ali

    If Freeosk manage to develop a reputation for only handing out good quality products, then this will be a very powerful way to market.