The Psychology of Free Shit

Very random reef write-ups

It’s true!  I am often as baffled as I am charmed by some of the responses I’ve gotten over the past years about the extra "surprises" that people find when they open their Battleboxes.   By "surprises" I simply mean:  free stuff - primarily a frag or two.
It’s a strange phenomena indeed.  Free shit can be shrugged off and dismissed, or highly regarded.  Sometimes being met with utmost gratitude, other times completely expected, and every so often, flat out frowned upon all together.  I have heard it all and I can’t help but be amused by how these good intentions are greeted - be it well or poorly.  It was many years ago now, but I will never forget the guy who complained about the size of the free stuff I shipped with his order.  I’ll admit, it had me rethinking ever sending freebies ever again, but alas, the notion fortunately faded. I'd say 9 1/2 out of 10 people are very grateful for any extras that they receive, but its still an interesting subject to me. 
Let’s talk about the psychology of free shit. 
There's something about value and the concept of what I’ll loosely call “virtual value”, that I find very interesting.  If a frag is free, even if it would otherwise be expensive, I think that it's value immediately becomes undermined by the fact that it was not only free, but also not necessarily desired or wanted.  I think that’s completely normal behavior; however, the intrinsic value of something free may be difficult to calculate and really is ultimately determined buy the person in possession of the free stuff. 
Where am I going with this?  Simply to open up a discussion on how people see and experience freebies.  It's kind of a petty subject really, but let's go there.  I remember years ago when the Red Dragon was still hard to get a hold of, but I had lots of it. I would often send out pieces as freebies.  The response was usually very unexpected -surprise and questions of possible mix up, followed by extreme gratitude and a little  bewilderment upon confirmation that is was not a mistake.   Clearly this was an example where the extra frag exceeded their expectations by a lot.  For me, the dragon grew like a weed and I had plenty to go around. It was easy to give away even back then when it was a still fetching nearly 200 a frag.
Normally when it comes to extras I’ll try to tailor them to whatever else was purchased, not just dumping excess montis and the like, but using the extras to round out a pack in a good way.  Sometimes I’ll clip branches from better than average colonies I have as well. I like to think that the extras can help soften the blow from any shipping costs, and is ultimately my way of saying thank you for the business.  No strings attached. Love, hate or indifference towards them, they are all yours.
What about those times when a frag or two may come in DOA, but there are a couple nice extras included that made the trip in perfect health.  Do they that offset the DOA’s in any way, or are these resilient extras simply seen as valueless tagalongs, even if their actual value far exceeds that of the DOA?  As tempted as I have been to do so, I have always held back the urge to say something like "well, I know that  two in your original order were DOA, but the freebies I sent should make up for it".  Just doesn’t really work that way.  And that brings me back to  the question.  How do we actually value the stuff we get free from vendors? What do you guys think?  I suppose in the end, any appreciation or value of stuff gotten free, is truly held by their new owners and no one else.


Isaiah Alejo says:

28 Mar 2021:

Interesting write up, i am one of those who do enjoy free stuff when available. You being a online vendor you could just give the order as is but we all see its more about customer satisfaction rather than making money and thats what really counts because it shows you are doing things for the right reason. I do see people being unappreciative about getting things ruin the fun but thats going to happen nothing to really do. Again a good write up as the rest of the write ups, will be checking for more

Cameron says:

09 Aug 2020:

Very interesting, I for one love getting freebies because it is not something I would expect to get, and it really shows that the seller went over the top to make my pack better. I would 100% not be mad that I got something for free, and I don’t usually undervalue something because I got it for free. If anything, I’d appreciate it even more than I would normally, because It was such a steal.

Mike says:

20 Oct 2018:

I always tell my kids that nothing is free. There is always a cost somehow paid by someone/something.

I think there are many different mindsets in the hobby and how you perceive getting something you didn’t order/pay for is different for each.

I think most of us all respect life, in fact that’s why we sacrafice much of our own to aquaculture and raise these pain in the ass reef tanks.

A free coral is a living organism or animal if you will, and not to sound sinical, but now we are now obligated to care for it or affect it’s destiny in some fashion (even if that’s the garbage can).

An extreme way to look at it is, if you like a specific dog, and ordered it, and it came with a free mutt puppy or even a purebred puppy that you didn’t order. You now feel obligated to keep this alive (even if it’s until you can rehome it), and as a result you are now making unplanned acommodations for this additional life form that showed up. Perhaps the dog you purchased was of a specific temperament and fit into your environment, but the extra puppy needed different care and things you weren’t ready to accomodate. I know you mentioned that you pick things similar to what was ordered and this is an extreme example but I think you get the point.

Not everyone has a frag system or growout tank so some might be left feeling obligated to put a free coral in our own tank to keep this life form alive, at least until you can donate it to your LFS or give it away if you don’t want it.

My LFS has a little game they are doing this month, that for every 50$ you spend, you can draw from a bucket and win free things. I have drawn free corals multiple times, but when it’s from the 10-15$ racks, I am just not interested so I opt out. If this coral showed up at my doorstep with an online order, I’d be equally excited (not excited) about receiving it. When I draw and get a 30-50$ free coral, I seize the opportunity to throw another quality frag on my rack until I decide what to do with it.

All that being said, I think anyone that gives negative feedback when getting something free is an asshole and the least you can do is say, this was nice but no thanks and please don’t do it again.

I think the big differentiator here is it’s not an object, it’s a form of life.

Eric Cioffi says:

04 Jan 2018:

I greatly appreciate when a free frag or two is included in the shipment. However when I order coral I pick out certain colors and shapes to go in my tank. When I take the time to make my selection and it is DOA, the freebies are nice, but doon’t make up for the loss of the targeted and specifically selected coral that was purchased.

Thanks for my frags.


Dewayne says:

27 Oct 2017:

To me, a freebie is often more valuable than the items I actually paid for (not necessarily monetarily) . I look at it like this, if I order something I expect to receive that item thats it. nothing more nothing less. If you throw in a freebie, that’s above and beyond what I expect to receive. Regardless of whether its of great value or not. You didn’t have to provide that. I placed an order for the items I wanted with the understanding that those are the items that I’d receive. Anything else is above and beyond and much appreciated. Kind of like when I used to work on cars. I’d do the job and maybe if I saw a light out I’d go ahead and replace it for you then wash the car just as a thank you. No recognition needed just a simple token of my appreciation for you choosing me over the competition.

Maggie says:

26 Jul 2017:

I havent ordered anything yet, but reading this makes me want to because, lets be real, I LOVE FREE STUFF!!!

Simon says:

05 Jun 2017:

It would work better if I could see what I am typing, so I will try my best. Interesting thoughts. I like your spelling mistake “buy” , this must be a subliminal message…lol. sadly I live in Canada, only for the reason I will not be able to “buy” (or get some free) corals from you. Keep up the good work though!! Simon

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