The interplay between free sampling and word of mouth in the online software market

Hong Chen, Wenjing Duan, Wenqi Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Free sampling in digital format has become a common business practice in the online market offering consumers first-hand experience with products, due to its low marginal cost and extensive online distribution. At the same time, online word of mouth (WOM) has also been a prevalent strategy on the Internet for increasing product visibility and providing trustworthy product information. Those two online marketing strategies are generally considered to stand alone by marketers and prior research. Nevertheless, by drawing on integrated information response theory as well as theories for explaining online consumers’ review sharing, we argue that free sampling complements WOM in the online market by amplifying its sales effect and facilitating its implementation. We provide supportive empirical evidence through a Bayesian analysis of software free sampling on CNET (CNETD) and sales and WOM from over a 25-week data set. Our results show that adoptions of CNETD free sampling positively interact with Amazon WOM in influencing Amazon software sales. In addition, more adoptions of CNETD free sampling lead to a larger volume of Amazon WOM, and this impact is more significant for less popular products. These findings contribute to our understanding of free sampling in the online market such that, in addition to its direct sales effect, free sampling can also potentially affect sales through influencing online WOM. Therefore, we suggest that marketers evaluate the free sampling strategy by including its interplay with online WOM and apply low-cost free sampling to facilitate the relatively more expensive online WOM marketing strategy, especially for unpopular products.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-90
Number of pages9
JournalDecision Support Systems
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Management Information Systems
  • Information Systems
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Information Systems and Management


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