Sample Requests: What Is Reasonable?


Q A DISTRIBUTOR ASKS: Does  anyone have a policy that specifies how samples and the associated freight charges are handled? We’re seeing more and more customers who ask for samples of products (sometimes expensive ones) but then don’t order the item. How do other companies manage this? I want to put together a consistent response to customer requests that is polite but helps reduce our costs and exposure. 

A At The Ohio Art Company, w e create sample packs that highlight a few of our smaller products, while still being able to provide an example of our high-quality printing on metal. For example, we produce several sizes and shapes of metal trays, coasters, license plates and signs. In the sample pack, we include one small rectangular tray, one round coaster and one square felt-back coaster.  

Our potential customer gets a great idea of our finished products and an example of our printing, but we are not sending out large quantities of higher-dollar items such as large trays. Since it is a standard sample pack, the weight/dimensions are always the same. The customer is not charged for their sample pack but is responsible for shipping via their UPS
or FedEx account. This way, we are both investing a little bit into the business relationship.

Sales Manager
The Ohio Art Company
PPAI 681293


If a customer frequently asks for samples and does not order, the first issue is to decide how much the relationship is worth to you. 

The net cost of most items is less than the cost of UPS. Many vendors do not even charge for items under $10 if you pay the freight. For more expensive items, ask the vendor what their return policy is on a requested sample. 

Sometimes clients have no idea what samples cost you. If you explain the process, sometimes they will restrain themselves or offer to split the cost. If you feel you are being taken advantage of, it may be time to move on.

Harry A. Parrish & Associates
PPAI 107470


Sample costs and freight are a touchy issue. Using preferred vendors, we can usually secure free samples if they are under $10, but I think it makes sense to narrow down the number of samples by asking the client questions about budget per item, color preference, imprint method required and logo specifications. Agree on how many choices are reasonable—I would suggest one to three of a specific style of item, more on lower-cost items like pens.  

You could say, “We have negotiated discounts on samples with our key vendors, and if you are serious about purchasing items, we can send you a reasonable number of samples at no charge. Unfortunately, though, we haven’t been able to convince UPS or FedEx to ship items for free, so if you are willing to give us your shipper number, we will be happy to ship the samples once you have narrowed down your choices.” That is my approach.

Sales Partner
Indoff, Inc.
PPAI 225638


As a distributor, I have no problem paying for samples that I request and their associated shipping costs. It’s just a part of doing business.

If the sample is expensive, or the shipping is costly (i.e., an overnight request), I will make my client aware that there may be costs associated with the request. That either results in an “Oh, never mind” or an agreement to be responsible for the costs incurred.

Maine Street Graphics, Inc.


For me, sampling is just the cost of doing business. If I notice a trend over time without orders, though, I will relay that cost to the potential client since I feel I can safely assume they are “shopping” me (getting three required quotes but always going with their favorite vendor). 

I did have one client that wanted 15 samples for a “choice by committee” order. I explained my estimated cost and asked her to choose five items, with the understanding that I would bill her for the remainder. We’re still doing business together, so I assume that was reasonable to her. It may have been a wake-up call since clients rarely consider our expenses.

A2Z Business Promotions
PPAI 429409


When a supplier provides a sample at no charge, I offer my shipper number. Though there are exceptions, I think it’s my responsibility to pay ground transportation for samples I order. 

A policy to reduce the overall cost of samples is a different matter. If it has become a problem that warrants a policy, I suggest creating a very simple one that is virtually impossible to misunderstand. 

However, my experience leads me to believe that it’s best to be flexible on this issue. In most cases, samples are considered a cost of doing business unless the privilege is being abused. 

Brand Architect
PPAI 105182


We offer clients that buy over a certain amount every year a sample allowance that varies depending on their sales with us. For clients that do not qualify, samples are billed at EQP (end quantity pricing), and we will credit them the cost of the samples if we get an order. We charge freight on all sample orders.

That’s My Ball


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Terry Ramsay is associate editor of PPB.

filed under PPB Magazine | Question | May-2018
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Comments (1)
Dawn Flint
May 23, 2018
I feel I should pay for the transportation, but when it is a small lightweight $1.00 item, I really hate getting a $15.00 UPS charge. I think many suppliers should have a us mail program for small inexpensive items like pens, etc.
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