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What Is Reciprocity? How Can It Boost Sales?


It’s happened to all of us. We receive a fundraising mailer that includes a set of free address labels or an inexpensive bookmark. There is no obligation to donate, yet we feel compelled to give anyway because of the gift. This is the power of reciprocity.


Reciprocity is a powerful psychological principle that works as well in marketing as it does in our personal lives. Studies have shown that even the smallest tokens can have a significant impact. For example, researchers from Monmouth University found that waiters and waitresses could improve their tips simply by bringing a small candy with the bill. Specifically, they found that diners who received a small piece of chocolate tipped 17.8%, on average, versus 15.1% for those who did not.


How can you apply the principle of reciprocity to your business? Here are a few ideas:


  1. When sending a direct mail piece, include a free sample of your product.

  2. Purchase a new mover’s list and send out a welcome packet with information about local attractions and events. Include coupons for your products and services at the same time.

  3. When people land on your website, offer them a free e-book or access to a webinar. When they sign up, ask them to sign up for your email list, too.

  4. Send customers branded items like pens, hats, and tote bags. Even inexpensive items have proven to increase intent to buy.

  5. Hold a contest or giveaway for a fantastic prize. On the thank-you page, ask entrants to share the information with their social networks.


Reciprocity is a powerful tool. The gift that you are giving matters less than the fact that you are making people feel valued. So why not give it a try? You’ll increase sales, build customer loyalty, and improve your bottom line.