Gift With Purchase: Cosmetic Freebies Are Big Business


They’re the magic word in the beauty biz: freebies. Call them giveaways or goodie bags, they’re the sweet carrot dangled before cosmetic queens to keep them coming back for more. Nothing fosters brand loyalty like a free tube of lipstick.

Although not exactly free, the gift-with-purchase strategy is the most visible and prevalent way to get your hands on beauty products. Who in their right mind wouldn’t wait to restock their favorite foundation until a promotion means freebies can be snagged? Spring is the season when gift with purchase, or GWP, really comes alive. Saks Fifth Avenue has GWPs from Guerlain, Estee Lauder and Erno Laszlo. In April, Borghese goes the GWP route. Lancome is also GWPing.

But the most recognizable (and coveted) GWPs are those offered by Clinique. Although the practice of product sampling and giveaways was invented by Estee Lauder years before her company established Clinique in 1968, Clinique put muscle behind GWP in 1970 and made it famous. Today, Clinique practically owns the GWP trade, making its campaigns the most recognized and sought-after in the business. Who doesn’t have multiple miniature vials of Dramatically Different Moisturizer in their drawers, just waiting for a trip to Spain? Who hasn’t coveted Clinique’s body lotions, toners and lipsticks that come in the generous gift bags? Who hasn’t figured out how to wrangle two Clinique GWPs during especially frenzied beauty safaris?

Make no mistake, GWPs are big business.



“It’s a wonderful way to give the consumer an opportunity to try a product and get comfortable with it before she actually makes a commitment to use it,” says Jackie Kelly, director of promotional marketing for Clinique. “More importantly, though, one of the main things we hope it does is introduce new users to the brand.”

That’s why cornerstone products are always part of GWPs (such as Dramatically Different Moisturizer), as well as top-selling shades of lipstick or blush. No sense in test-marketing products in GWPs that won’t be available if a convert returns for more.

Kelly, who is responsible for development and implementation of Clinique GWPs in the United States and Canada, says about 70% of GWPers are brand-loyal customers. About 20% are non-loyal customers who usually shop for cosmetics during promotions, while 10% are pulled in by in-store promotions. It’s that 20%, Kelly says, who the company hopes to make brand-loyal with fabulous and effective GWP products.

Although Clinique makes a “marginal profit” with GWPs, that’s not the point, Kelly says. “It’s about sampling the product and building the brands for a day-in and day-out business.”

GWP time is also a perfect opportunity to hear customer feedback. If Clinique counters are especially busy during GWP, as they usually are, the company issues invitations to return for some one-on-one time with Clinique representatives. The customer picks up another sample.

So what about in-between times when there are no promotions? Are there free samples to be had? Absolutely. The key is to ask. Most makeup counters have products on hand that the company is willing to give out. Body Shop, Sephora, Philosophy and Aveda will usually give small vials of samples, especially body lotions and hair products. At Estee Lauder and Prescriptives, you can take home a free foundation to match your skin tone if you have your face analyzed by the sales associates. Look for buy-one-get-one-free promotions as a way to stock up on products. And don’t forget that companies like to sample heavily during new product launches, especially for perfumes. Nordstrom, by the way, will have a Clinique GWP in June.

“I think bonus time for Clinique is something the loyal customer looks forward to,” Kelly says. “I think she would truly miss it if it went away.”