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A few years ago, I received a free gift card in the mail from a major fast food company. Enclosed with the $5 gift card was a letter from the company following up because I had recently made a complaint. The free gift was an apologetic gesture to keep me as a customer.
At the time, I was thrilled! I was working over 60 hours a week between 2 low-paying jobs, and still barely making ends meet. That $5 meant a free meal for me, and was a bit of an unexpected treat.
But I was little hesitant to accept it.
Why, you ask?
I Didn’t Make the Complaint
I suspect that there was some sort of glitch in their system because I had recently signed up for the company’s email newsletter. (My birthday was coming up and I wanted to get a coupon for some free food.) Otherwise, I have no idea how they would have gotten my mailing address.
I have, however, complained to companies and asked for a discount or refund a few times in the past. But only when service I received was truly awful.
Like the time I complained to an airline after my flight was double-booked twice, the washroom on the plane was out of service, and they were unable to offer food during the flight due to a catering issue – all on the same trip! (I know, I know… complaining about airlines is such a cliche!) They did offer me a $50 voucher, which I accepted and then “paid it forward” by giving it to my sister for her to use.
Complaining is Easy, So Why Not?
Nowadays, I’m sure companies get more complaints than ever thanks to the advances in technology. It’s so easy for customers to publicly complain through the company’s website or social media channels or on review sites.
I’m sure that most of these companies offer some sort of discount, freebie, product samples, or incentive to many of those customers in order to keep their business.
That’s easy to see why, too. They say that it costs 5-7 times as much to acquire a new customer than it is to keep an existing one. So mailing out free sample boxes or free gift cards means nothing to companies in the long-run.
And if the complaint is valid, companies should send you some sort of compensation.
Is It Ethical to Complain to a Company Just to Get Free Stuff?
In the personal finance world, there is a sometimes overwhelming amount of advice out there on how to save money. There are articles ranging from couponing to how to get free things like groceries. Most of the time this advice is offered in good faith.
But I have seen articles that are encouraging people to make false complaints (or exaggerate small ones) in order to receive free products.
There are also a few websites and online forums where people are sharing how they complained just to get a free product or some free coupons so that others can do the same.
I’m not going to tell anyone how to live their life, but I hope that you don’t do this.
Honest Ways to Get Free Stuff by Mail & Email
Just as there are easy ways to complain thanks to technology, there are also easy – and honest – ways to get completely free things sent to your mailbox or your inbox. Including free baby stuff, food samples, magazines, perfume, makeup samples, beauty products, and high value coupons. All free!
Sign Up to Email Newsletters
Most companies will give you a freebie or discount if you’re willing to sign up to their email newsletters. These are usually applied to your first (or next) purchase, or will be valid on or around your birthday.
Not everyone enjoys taking surveys, but you can get all sorts of free items by filling out one.
There are quick customer satisfaction surveys found on the bottom of your receipts that offer things like a free cookie or a chance to win free gifts, a giveaway or sweepstakes.
Or there are reward sites where you earn points to fill-out surveys, print coupons, watch videos, test products, search online, etc. that can be redeemed for cash or gift codes. My personal favorites are: Swagbucks, Leo, Unique Rewards, and Opinion Outpost.
Use Freebie, Coupon & Free Sample Websites
There are numerous places to get free samples, vouchers and totally free items online. Some sites are updated every single day, while others require you to signup so they can automatically send free product samples to you.
- Facebook Marketplace
- Reddit’s Freebies
- Sample Source
- Freebies.com – Canada
- Free Stuff Finder – Canada
- Free.ca – Canada
- CC Freebies – Canada
Honestly, there are so many different options out there! Search “free” + your location or the product you’re looking for and you are bound to find something.
Install a Browser Extension
Browser extensions likes Dealspotr and Honey makes money-saving super easy. Once installed, they will automatically find working discount codes for you when you shop online. With Dealspotr you can also earn points by submitting deals that you can redeem for gift cards so you can buy whatever it is you need.
Say Thank You Instead of Complaining
Back in 2006, Tom Locke conducted a 39 Dollar Experiment where he essentially wrote fan letters to 100 different companies and asked for free stuff by mail. And yes, he actually sent real letters, printed on paper and sent through the post office. (Some of them are pretty funny!) He received over 60 responses and 35 freebies for a total of about $275 worth of products and coupons.
More recently, Jim Wang completed a similar experiment, called the Flattery Project where he thanked over 40 different companies (via email) to see if they would send him anything. He received mostly coupons and a few free samples from about a third of the companies he contacted. But one company, Nespresso, sent him a free set of cappuccino cups and saucers worth approximately $20. Just because he asked.
If you are frugal or looking for deals or discounts, you don’t have to go about it in a negative way. Being positive and thanking companies for their great products or service works too!
Is it Worth it to Complain Just to Get Stuff for Free?
I can’t answer this question for you. What’s worth it to me might not be worth it to you.
It really depends on your personal values and your circumstances.
If you’ve complained to get free meal so that you or your family get to eat that day, I don’t think anyone would blame or criticize you for doing so.
But if you’re making up complaints just because – that’s another story. Is it really worth lying? Compromising your values? Setting a bad example for others (like your kids)? Possibly costing an innocent employee their job – maybe even their whole business?
It’s important to consider how your complaint affects others.
You can find free stuff all over the place, so I don’t think that complaining just to get something for free is necessary. Reach out and thank the specific companies you like. Exchange your email to get a free sample. Give your opinion and score free gift cards. Or use the internet to find promo codes and get freebies instead.
But alas, people of the Internet, I pose this question to you all: Have you ever complained to get free stuff by mail before? Would you? Have you ever complimented or thanked a company and received a freebie?
Please share your stories or thoughts in the comments and let us know!
A version of this post was originally published in November 2012 and has been majorly updated and republished.
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