The top online stories from the Purple Goldfish Project


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Dot Com Extras

amazon frustration free packagin

The Purple Goldfish Project was an effort to crowd source 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe. Brands that give little unexpected extras (g.l.u.e) in order to drive differentiation, improve retention and promote word of mouth. This post is the eighth in a 12 part series looking at the top 200 examples from the Project by industry.

Here’s a dozen examples from the click and mortar realm:


Amazon (#165 Submitted by Adam Brett) “The frustrating free packaging is a brilliant idea. I’m sure having your little ones you have battled the wires before trying to open up a gift”

chegg plant a treeChegg (#235 from the folks over at Gaspedal) “College students love Chegg for their cheap textbook rentals, free shipping, and eco-friendly business philosophy. Chegg believes that renting a book instead of buying it new helps save trees. This isn’t just their corporate mission statement, the company actually functions around this core value. For every book they rent, they plant a tree in return. As the customer finishes their transaction, Chegg presents a world map and asks the customer to pick a country or region to plant their tree in. It’s a simple, visual way of engaging during the transaction process and giving back to the community at the same time. Customers can then tell the world what they did by linking their Chegg transaction to their Facebook profile or Twitter account.”

Blue Ridge Soap Shed (#266 submitted by Karen Wylie)
“We are a 12 year old business and include gifts with every order we ship. We provide free samples with all web, phone and mail orders (about 4,000 orders a year), and the number of samples is based on the dollar value of the order.
First time customers were so unaccustomed to receiving something free, that we had to start labeling the gifts AS ‘gifts.’ When we didn’t, we estimate that 20-30% of new customers would call or email us worried that we made a mistake with their order. Some would ask how to return the extra product, others would state in very annoyed emails that they hoped they weren’t charged extra for it.
We quickly realized that our nice gesture had potentially negative consequences for us, because the free gift created a doubt or concern in some customers’ minds about their order, our business, or how we handled their order. So we adopted additional packaging and shipping procedures. All free items we provide now have a gold label that says ‘Thank You’ or ‘Enjoy this Gift’ or ‘With Our Compliments’ so there is NO QUESTION the item is free.
We initially started providing small samples to our web & mail customers as a marketing strategy. We would review a customer’s order, and include free samples of similar scents. Our free gifts have become quite a tradition, and something customers say they look forward to with each delivery. I don’t think this is a gesture we could ever stop making without incurring a negative or disappointing response from our very loyal customers.
Over the years, we extended our tradition to visitors to our retail shop because they asked why our mail order customers got something they did NOT. This required us to create a completely different set of procedures for providing free gifts in the face-to-face retail shop environment.”

zappos free shippingZappos (#349. Submitted by Anne Perschel) “The other HUGE purple goldfish is Zappos, which as you know is one for my favorite Corporate Souls. They often “unexpectedly” upgrade a customer’s order to next day shipping at no extra charge. Surprise. Delight. Delivering Happiness.”

Zappos (#397. Submitted by Joe Gascoigne) “As for an example, one that springs to mind is that if you try to order shoes from Zappos and they do not have the shoes you want in stock, they will actually recommend a nearby store that does. It seems counter-intuitive, but I think it really builds trust and it obviously works well for them.”

timbuk2 bag recyclingTimbuk2 (#392 submitted by Gina Miezkowski) “Because I believe in the power of all things Social Media, I had expressed on Twitter my unhappiness over my Timbuk2 bag’s strap “squeeking” . To my surprise (relief) I received a message from @Timbuk2 advising me to call the CS department and that I would be taken care off. The CS team sent me out a new strap for my bag, no questions asked. Timbuk2 presents themselves as a company that would behave in exactly such a way, and they “walk the walk”. You’re not just buying a bag, you’re buying an EXPERIENCE. They want to make sure you are happy, they GET IT. They go out of their way to make owning their product a positive experience, from the time of purchase (if you order a custom bag they include a polaroid of your bag being “born” with people outfitted in surgical scrubs) to everyday usage as my experience proves.”

Zappos (#493 taken from Peter Osbourne’s blog ‘Bulldog Simplicity’)
“My son lost one of his dress shoes at school the other day. Don’t ask. I don’t know how you lose one shoe.
So last night (Tuesday) he and his mother went to the store where he bought them. Nothing in his size. They get home and for a variety of reasons they don’t get online until about 10 p.m. They find the shoes and my wife calls Zappos to confirm that we’ll get the shoes by Thursday with one-day shipping. I’m not clear on the rest of the conversation, but Zappos waives the overnight delivery charges. No reason given, but it sounded like it was because we were first-time buyers. It’s like Tony Hsieh was sitting outside the house when we ordered Tyler’s shoes. As a first-time buyer, Zappos didn’t just exceed our expectations. They obliterated them. And that leaves me with two questions for you, regardless of whether you’re a retailer, a consultant, or a person within a large company…

  1. When was the last time you obliterated a customer or client’s expectations?
  2. How can you “Zappos” someone’s expectations the next time you deal with them?”

perpetualkidPerpetual Kid (#549 from Ariel Savrin-Jacobs) “Last week I bought a few fun things online for my dorm room from It was my first time buying from them, and I’ll certainly be a repeat customer. The site is overall really fun (for example, I got measuring cups that stack like a Russian nesting doll), and it definitely didn’t hurt that my order placed at 10 pm on the 18th shipped the next morning and arrived on the 20th. But the best part of it all was the surprise “finger monster” (for lack of better words) sitting on top when I opened the package. While I don’t quite know what to do with it, I sure got a kick out of it, and I bet many other customers probably did too. I’ve attached a picture of this rubber “finger monster”. Hope it helps on your way to 1,001 and I will let you know if I come across any others!”

johnny cupcakes boxJohnny Cupcakes (#636) Submitted in a tweet by David Knies @davidknies of themarketing / design agency Launch Control. David’s tweet “@9INCHmarketing stan check out @johnnycupcakes and what they do in their shipments to customers!”
It turns out that Johnny Cupcakes and a few purple goldfish with a mail order shipment. Here is a comment from a T-shirt forum: “What a great display. So, there was a. the box, b. the tissue paper, c. the bag, d. the shirt, e. the hang tag, f. the oven mit label, g. the home alone card, h. the business card, i. the button, and j. the candy.”

penzey's spices lagniappePenzey’s Spices #718
Taken from a tweet by @nelderini
“Bumpersticker lagniappe included in my peppercorns order from Penzey’s: Love People. Cook them tasty food.” Classy. Love those guys.”

MIIR – #816. Submitted by Tyson Adams of liveglocal
Buy a bottle and one person in the developing world gets clean water for a year

ll bean guarantee#800 L.L. Bean taken from a post by Barry Dalton @bsdalton

My friends recently decided to take up hiking the Appalachian Trail as a hobby. I could probably think of about 3 dozen more leisurely activities to pick up as a “hobby”. But awesome for them!
So, about sixty or seventy miles into their latest trek last week, they were strolling within a few miles of my house and asked to camp for the night for a hot meal and a shower. So, after devouring half the food in the house and getting cleaned up, we all sat down with a bottle of wine to hear some stories.
My friend proceeds to tell me that at a campground, he and a fellow hiker got their Bean Boot laces crossed, whereby the stranger ended up accidentally putting my friends boots into his backpack and hauling off down the trail. My friend, upon later putting his fellow long-departed sojorner’s size 14 boots on his size 9 foot realized the mix up.
He called L.L. Bean from the trail (in our connected world were noplace is “out of range”) and told them of his dilemma. The Bean rep told him that he would FedEx a new pair of boots in the right size to my address for next day delivery. In return, they asked him to send the old boots back to them when he got back home.
Oh, did I mention that they treated this like an exchange? Like….he didn’t have to buy the new pair of boots. And get this. The boots they were sending him cost thirty bucks less than the old ratty size 14s he had in his sack. So, Bean sent him a gift card for the thirty bucks! I couldn’t make this stuff up!
We finish the wine (and one or two more bottles, I think), went to sleep. And sure enough, around ten am the next day, the FedEx guy delivered a brand new pair of warm, dry Bean Boots to my door.
So, do you think my friend will buy his next ten pair of boots, and all his other outdoor, Daniel Boone, trail-blazing gear from L.L. Bean for the rest of his hiking days?”

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – An upboxing of a Johnny Cupcakes order:

Your experience is now your marketing. How do you stand out in the sea of sameness? How do you win repeat customers and influence word of mouth? Is your CX sticky? Are you Giving Little Unexpected Extras?

What’s Your GLUE? What’s Your Purple Goldfish?

Buy the book here for $9.95 using this special discount code: GL546Y5S

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


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