Be like an ice cream parlor, not a supermarket

Nouman A.
3 min readJun 22, 2022

This simple, risk-free strategy took brands like Mailchimp, Dropbox, and Zappos through the roof.

Think of the last time you bought ice cream from your nearest supermarket.

You had a flavor in your mind, something like vanilla chocolate or cookies N cream. There were other fancy flavors too, like burgundy cherry or butterscotch ribbon but you grabbed a tried-n-tested one and went home.

Now think of the last time you went to an Ice cream parlor.

Did you get the same lowkey cookies n cream or did you treat yourself with something new like butterscotch ribbon or perhaps burgundy cherry?

When this same flavor was in the supermarket, you looked past it. Now, in the ice cream parlor, you’re taking it home. What happened there?

Ever heard of Zappos?

After almost a year after its launch, this e-shoe brand was struggling. Sales went down and revenue was slim. After trying traditional marketing tactics with no success, Zappos did something that none of its competitors were doing at the time. Two words, twelve letters. FREE Shipping

Before: $29 Blue Nike Runners. Shipping cost $8

After: $32 Blue Nike Runners. Free Shipping.

This got them a lot of traction….

The problem was that people were uncertain about buying from some half-decent online website. On top of that, they had to pay for shipping to try the shoes and pay again to ship them back if they didn’t like them. That’s a whole lot of deal-breakers.

Zappos solved the uncertainty mess by offering free shipping both ways. This made it risk-free for people to try their shoes with their peace of mind and sanity intact. Now, that’s a whole lot of green signals.

“When you reduce the barriers to change, people are more likely to change”

Jonah Berger

The monkey email company Mailchimp increased its user base from 85,000 to 400,000 users by introducing a forever-free plan for 500 or fewer subscribers. Dropbox did the same.

Think of it this way. When you go to buy a car, you get to drive it for free. When you visit an apple store, you get to use your favorite MacBook for free. Before buying a paid MailChimp or Dropbox plan, you get to use the basic one for free.

These companies practice policies like these because people hate to lose a buck more than they love to win one. So to sell a cruise ship full of products, they inline their selling strategies with the way the human brain works.


Back in 2000, only 1% of things were bought online. People were uncertain and had second, third, and fourth thoughts about purchasing anything online, God forbid shoes. To cover this uncertainty, Zappos shrank the risk involved by introducing Free Shipping. So their customers can convince themselves by saying ok if I don’t like it, I’m gonna ship their asses right where they came from without spending a dime.

This is the same reason you buy adventurous flavors in an ice cream parlor. They minimize the risk of wasting money on some half-decent expensive flavor by offering free samples. They have made it easier for you to try something new and once you’ve tried it you know what happens next.

Ask yourself

  1. Just like Zappos, how can you shrink the upfront risk and make it easier for people to taste your product?

2. Just like Mailchimp, Dropbox, and an ice cream parlor, what part of your paid service can you offer your customers for free?



Nouman A.

I write about the marketing strategies that made brands millions