For a mere £60 a year you too can go 'looting' for moist toilet tissue
Straitened times throw up new ways to shop. Charlie Cooper went freeloading
With only nine shopping days left until Christmas – and on the eve of the most frantic day of consumerism in the calendar – London's streets are heaving with desperate people laden with expensive presents. I was more relaxed yesterday morning, however, as I walked out of a store carrying a bag of gifts for which I had not paid a penny.
"Free" shopping – or legal looting, if you like – is a new retail fad fresh from those masters of innovation, the Japanese. The "priceless revolution" that began in Tokyo with a company called Sample Central has now spread to 26 countries.
The promise of free Christmas presents lured me to the doors of SampleTrend, which has just opened on Goodge Street, a short walk north of London's Oxford Street. But as I soon discovered, perhaps unsurprisingly, there are one or two catches.
First, you have to become a member to take advantage of "free" shopping. Membership costs £60 a year, and entitles you to five items of your choice every month.
Second, it's questionable whether you would actually want to take home some of SampleTrend's products in the first place - never mind put them under the tree for your auntie to open.
I come away with: a can of Scheckter's Organic Energy drink (worth £1.45); a pot of Drink Me Chai Latte powder (£2.15); Men's Fitness Magazine 7 Rules of Building Muscle guide (£9.99); Colgate Plax Multi-Protection Daily Mouthwash (£2.99); and a bag of Kopi Guatemalan coffee beans (£9.00).
Products I forgo include skincare products and pots of Pringles. The shop guarantees that you will take home freebies worth more than your annual membership fee – my "loot" had a total value of £28.57. If I do this well every month, I will end the year with stuff worth almost £350 – and very good skin.
The savings are big, but only on things many consumers probably wouldn't even have considered buying if they hadn't already paid for membership. And being a member isn't just about the perks. By signing up you also agree to becoming a guinea pig. Your age, your wage, your ethnic origin and your interests are all passed on to SampleTrend's third-party clients – the manufacturers who provide their "free" products.
To "unlock" your next month's batch of freebies, you have to fill in a feedback form on each of this month's items. The forms are mind-numbing. Surely with a product like mouthwash you can't really go wrong? But no, the manufacturer would like to know what "you think is the main thing a mouthwash should do".
All the information submitted by SampleTrend's 800 members – they hope to have 5,000 in a year's time – is forwarded to the manufacturers. For the companies, it is cut-price product research service, for the consumer, a chance to get (sort of) free stuff.
SampleTrend's managing director Michael Ghosh says that the shop is all about branching out and trying new things. "We have a sense that our members are trend-setters and opinion formers," said Ghosh, who used to be an advertising and sales director for Disney. "It's a club and we want people to enjoy the experience."
Because of the members-only policy, you don't have to fight the crowds and the shop floor is designed like a poor man's Apple Store, with minimal clutter and ambient music, presumably to lull you into suggestibility. Then you're reminded that products include moistened toilet paper. I am told SampleTrend is part of Andrex's attempt to change the current perception of wet wipes as something you only buy if you have "problems". Trendsetters and opinion-formers, form an orderly queue.
Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again
Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood
The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs
- 1 Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
- 2 Prince held a Facebook Q&A and this is the only question he answered...
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 35,000 walrus gather on north-west Alaska beach 'for a rest'
- 5 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
Prince held a Facebook Q&A and this is the only question he answered...
Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
Brad Pitt, on the moment he completely lost his temper with Clint Eastwood's son
Jennifer Lawrence nude photos leak: More celebrities allegedly targeted as third wave of hacked images released
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Former Tory donor Arron Banks ups his Ukip donation to £1million following William Hague 'nobody' comment
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
- < Previous
- Next >
£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...
£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...
£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...
£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...