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E-commerce Giveaway Fail: A Case Study with Lots of Fun Lessons

E-commerce Giveaway Fail: A “Case Study” with Lots of Fun LessonsRecently, I read about how Greenbelly was able to launch their brand on a $75 budget and gather around 4,000 email addresses. I read a bunch of giveaway case studies and was inspired to try it out myself.

I decided to try out a group giveaway myself, similar to Greenbelly, to see if I could kick start my email list growth and re-launch my e-commerce blog.

I was able to get 6 other brands to participate, but unfortunately, our giveaway didn’t do nearly as well as hoped, gaining less than 100 emails. I wanted to share some lessons learned and some mistakes you should avoid if you want to run a successful giveaway.


Greenbelly’s success story

Greenbelly was able to launch a really successful campaign generating over 4,000 email leads and significant sales by partnering with established brands in their giveaway. They spent $75 on product and did no other marketing.

Their giveaway was a success because some of the brands that they partnered with were well established and promoted the giveaway, resulting in lots of participants. Gleam gives extra entries if people refer their friends, so this allowed the giveaway to spread even further.

This success story inspired me to try a similar giveaway for my e-commerce site selling baby shower supplies. I started by reading as many giveaway case studies that I could find. Then building a list of brands that had done giveaways in the past and reaching out to them.

Although things didn’t work out as well as hoped, I did learn a ton from the experience and here are some key lessons.


1. Have a strong promotion plan, even if you are partnering with brands

Don’t rely on brands to promote for you (unless you explicitly discuss promotion as part of the deal). In the Greenbelly case study, at least one of the established brands must have emailed their list to get the results that they did.

I mentioned that the brands should email their list and share the giveaway on social media. Although the brands I worked with had thousands of Instagram followers, I don’t know how big their email lists were or if they mailed them.

It’s also possible that our lists aren’t as effective since we are targeting new moms. In other words, our products are time sensitive and even a few months later, the prospect may no longer need our products. Comparatively, Greenbelly’s product (a snack product for outdoor adventurers) is an evergreen product that can be relevant for many years.

In retrospect, I should have come up with a stronger promotion plan of my own so that the giveaway would succeed, even if the other brands didn’t promote it. I did run some Facebook and Pinterest ads, but those generated little interest and I also sent an email to past customers (I guess the percentage of people that are interested in giveaways is pretty small).

I believe that most of the entrants probably came from Instagram.


2. Find Brands that have large email lists and pitch them on emailing their list

The founder of Greenbelly mentioned that he didn’t ask the other brands to promote it in any specific way. But luckily, the brands that they worked with did some really effective promotion for the giveaway.

I would suggest asking up front if the other brands have a good email list and if they are willing to commit to mailing their subscribers about the giveaway. Although it might feel uncomfortable to ask, it’s important to make sure that the other brands promote the giveaway as much as possible to ensure success.

Another option is to collaborate with a blogger as bloggers sometimes have a more engaged email list than brands. You may have to compensate the blogger to promote your giveaway, but if you partner with the right blogger, they could get you a good amount of reach for a reasonable price.

You can find email addresses of people you are trying to contact using this list of email finding tools and resources.


3. Social media ads work better if you already have an engaged audience

But if you don’t, it can be really expensive. I read this case study about a brand that spent just $50 on Facebook ads to promote their giveaway. I tried something similar, but didn’t get anywhere near the results that they did.

I’m guessing that they probably targeted their own audience and that they also probably already had a large following.

For my giveaway, I tried targeting expecting moms who were also interested in other pregnancy sites or baby showers and also interested in giveaways. I also tried retargeting website visitors with a second ad set.

However, the cost per click was over $2.00, which was a bit steep just to let people know about winning free stuff and most of the clicks didn’t appear to convert.

Many brands that I’ve seen doing Facebook ads use retargeting to target people that have already visited their site. This approach makes sense because these people are much more likely to convert because they already know who you are, which results in lower costs.


4. Not all products do well with a giveaway strategy

When I was reaching out to brands to participate in the giveaway, I got in touch with a company that sold maternity swim wear. I had seen them do a giveaway on Instagram, but she mentioned that the giveaways weren’t effective for them in bringing in new customers.

Before hosting a giveaway, you may want to evaluate your product. Here are a few things worth thinking about.


– Is your product time sensitive?

We sell baby shower products, so there’s a narrow window of just a few months when someone might be interested in buying our products. The same is true with maternity wear, except the niche is bigger and the time frame is probably a little longer.

In general, the shorter the time frame, the less customers you can expect through a launch based strategy like a giveaway.


– How small is your niche?

Maternity wear is a specific niche, but maternity swimwear is an even narrower niche. Not everyone that purchases maternity wear is going to want to go to the beach.

Generally, I suspect that if your niche is too small, then it might be harder to generate sales from a giveaway, unless you manage to reach a really large audience. SEO could work well if you can rank for your target keywords and also strategies that allow you to reach a large amount of people over time.


– Branded vs commodity products

Are you selling a branded or commodity product? Branded products offer a unique value proposition. For example, Greenbelly’s meals to go offer 3x the nutrition than an energy bar and can easily be carried with you. For an avid outdoors adventurer, this product would be nice to have.

Our products are a little more commoditized. While we do have some unique items, there are plenty of other people selling similar baby shower items.

Is it possible for baby shower products to do well in a giveaway? In retrospect, I’m not certain because I haven’t seen too many brands in the baby shower niche doing giveaways.

In case you are not sure if your product is suited for a giveaway, try looking for other competitors and see if they are doing giveaways. That might be a good hint to see if giveaways will ROI for you.


5. Get a list of at least 50 prospects if you are doing a multi-brand giveaway before doing your outreach

One of the things that I was worried about initially was that too many brands would say yes when I pitched them on our giveaway collaboration. So I only pitched about 20 brands at first and then later researched and pitched some more brands later.

This gradual approach greatly slowed down the timeline for our launch, especially with the back and forth emails and waiting for responses. When starting out, you should expect that most brands won’t be interested, even if they have actively participated in other giveaways. Some brands will have booked giveaway schedules and others just won’t be interested.

I reached out to about 50 brands and ultimately got 6 to participate. I’m sure that if we had more experience or a larger Instagram following that we may have gotten a higher response rate, but maybe just a few more.

If you are thinking of doing your own giveaway, I would suggest gathering a list of 50 brands and then pitching all of them at once. You can always set a limit on the number of participants up front if you need to.


6. Let the giveaway run for at least 2 weeks

When launching this giveaway, I had no idea how long I should let it run. Most of the giveaways I saw on Instagram ran for just a few days so that’s what I went with.

But later on, I visited other giveaway websites that used email entries and I noticed that most of them ran for about 2 weeks.

I guess for Instagram only giveaways, a few days might make sense since most of the entries occur during the first 24 hours. But for giveaways requiring email entry, letting it run longer will allow more people to find out about it and enter, which gets you more leads. It also gives you more time to promote the giveaway.


7. Don’t require too many actions

For our giveaway, we required everyone to take Instagram actions AND enter through our Gleam form. In the future, I think that lowering the requirements for entry might be a good idea.

Our goals were to grow our email list as well as the Instagram followings for all brands participating. But more requirements makes it a little harder for people to enter.

Generally, if you are offering a really large prize package and reaching a lot of people, you can increase the requirements to enter. You can still achieve multiple objectives by giving participants extra entries for completing additional steps.


8. Activate the social share action

In the Greenbelly case study, they kept it simple by limiting the number of entry options to signing up by email and referring friends. Gleam has an option to allow extra entries for social sharing, but they chose not to use it.

I decided to do the same for my giveaway, but in retrospect, that might have been a mistake. Some people might not be comfortable sharing their giveaway referral link by email unless they are really close with that person.

At the very least, incentivizing Facebook likes would have been a good idea. When someone likes something on Facebook, it can potentially be seen by all of their friends and the average Facebook user has over 200 friends.

I’m not sure if social sharing on other networks would have helped as much since the average person isn’t as active on other social media sites. I suppose it wouldn’t have hurt to activate other social networks, but Facebook most likely could have helped.


9. Review the entrants and invalidate fraudulent or duplicate entries

Just another tip to make sure your giveaway is fair…

Export the entrants into a CSV file and look through it to invalidate any fraudulent or duplicate entries. Gleam has automated features that take care of automatically invalidating suspicious entries for you, but you might catch a few more if you review the data.

Sometimes entrants might refer themselves using a second email, for example.


Other Case Studies and Resources

Here are some other resources that you might want to look into if you are planning on using giveaways in your marketing.

Josh Earl grew his email list by 200k using giveaways – This article on the Smart Passive Income blog is a long case study on how Josh Earl grew a massive email list using giveaways.

Case Study: How to collect 1,178 emails in 10 days with a giveaway – Robbie Richards published a good guide and case study explaining how he was able to gather over 1,000 email addresses with his giveaway.

Jewel Scent’s e-commerce giveaway – Jewel Scent ran a giveaway resulting in close to $19,000 in revenue using Viral Sweep. Viral Sweep also published a guide to hosting giveaways.

Gleam E-commerce case studies – Gleam published a bunch of e-commerce giveaway case studies which are a good source of inspiration and ideas.



There are many tools available that you can use to run your own giveaways. Here are a few of the most popular giveaway tools (affiliate links).

KingSumo Giveaways – Noah Kagan used giveaways to grow his Appsumo email list to 200k and is selling his own giveaway tool called Kingsumo Giveaways. The nice thing about Kingsumo Giveaways is that it has a one time cost rather than a monthly recurring fee.

Gleam.io – Gleam is the tool that I used for my giveaway. The free version allows you to easily run giveaways on your website without having to know how to code, but you will need the paid version to get access to the email addresses of people that sign up. Some features include viral sharing that incentivizes people to share your giveaway to get more entries, direct social media and email list integration and custom defined actions.

Rafflekopter – Rafflekopter is a similar alternative to Gleam. The free plan allows free exporting of entrant data, but the premium plan is required for the viral sharing feature (currently $84/month).


To Sum It Up

Although things didn’t quite work out as well as hoped, running a giveaway was a good learning experience and it was good getting to connect with other brands. Here’s what I would do if I launched another giveaway in the baby niche:

– Partner with a niche blogger to get guaranteed exposure to their email list. There are plenty of blogs that target moms and expecting parents that also host giveaways. I would avoid untargeted giveaway sites as these are likely to attract freebie seekers.

– Plan out a promotion plan if I am hosting the contest myself. Collaborating with other bloggers seems to be one of the most effective ways to launch a successful giveaway.

– Grow my own email list through content marketing. Having your own email list is the best way to guarantee a successful giveaway. Using a tool like Gleam and Rafflekopter can allow you to increase your reach and subscriber growth as participants share your competition.

– I might try Reddit ads next time, as some people have said that they are cheaper than other social media ads and you may be able to reach your target audience more effectively in some cases. For example, there are pregnancy sub-reddits that would be well targeted. I was unable to try Reddit ads this time because you need to schedule your ad at least 2 days in advance.

– The entrants actually did a really good job of referring others to the giveaway and increased participation by about 30%.

– Overall, it was still a positive learning experience and it was great getting to connect with other brands in my niche. I was glad that other brands were willing to contribute to this, even though we were just starting out.

Stuart from Gleam was also really helpful and I do recommend their platform for giveaways. If you are interested in running your own giveaway, you can check out their platform here (affiliate link).

In summary, I do still think that giveaways can be a good way to build an audience and even make sales, but it requires some planning, thought and organization to make it work. I hope that sharing my experiences above will help you if you do decide to launch your own giveaway.

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About Brian Lang

I've been making a living online since 2002, mostly through e-commerce sites and content sites with advertising. Through the years, I have also learned a lot about other types of businesses and helped other people with their business problems.


  1. Hi Brian, thanks for the sharing. The case study really useful for me.

  2. Hey Brian! I appreciated this awesome post. I had some difficulties of getting leads from giving away the service instead of the physical products. What’s your experience with giving away services?

    • Brian Lang says:

      Hi Michael. I haven’t tried doing a giveaway for services, but I would imagine that it could work particularly if you are targeting consumers (B2C). Usually people that are serious are willing to pay for services and giving away free services doesn’t scale as well because it takes up a good amount of your own time.

      But I have seen people with high consulting rates offer free consultations to entice people to take action. You’d have to be able to sell the value of the service if it’s something like consulting whereas with physical products, the value is apparent.

  3. Hi Brian, thanks for the sharing. The case study really useful for me

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Join the Small Business Ideas Blog Newsletter to stay updated and also get access to member only downloads and content, including special reports, studies and articles I write on other blogs. Some member bonuses include:
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