Food & Drink

This is why free samples trick you into buying food

Free sample
Anthony Humphreys

You probably think you're scamming the system by loading up on taquito samples at every shop you hit, but it turns out you're the one getting played, slick. According to The Atlantic, free samples actually compel you to buy stuff, due to a bunch of psychological factors that we wish our Psych 101 professor had told us about instead of Skinner's dumb box.

The Atlantic investigation focused on Costco, which employs a company called Interactions to dish out bites to customers. Interactions hands out free samples at several national retailers, and they do serious work for sales at each spot. When they give out swigs of beer, sales go up an average of 71%. And when they offer bits of pepperoni pie, frozen pizza sales spike by 600%. So are they getting Bill Murray to hand out the stuff or what? Nope, it's apparently all about reciprocity. Psychologically, if someone does something nice for you -- like feeds you -- you will be incredibly compelled to do something nice back. Also, forgotten cravings are no joke. When you've been off Doritos for months, all it takes is an errant free chip to get you stockpiling.

All the free stuff further lends Costco a "fun" atmosphere that helps get people into spending mode, according to the article. It's an interesting strategy for sure, but if they really want to up the happy, they should offer walking around beer.

Kristin Hunt is a food/drink staff writer for Thrillist, and will never trust another free sample person as long as she lives. Follow her to suspicions at @kristin_hunt.