The holiday shopping season has become a bonanza for bargain shoppers, who look forward to a chance to make big ticket purchases and pick up gifts at heavy discounts during not only Black Friday Weekend, but all the way through the final days of December. Mintel’s  Winter Holiday Shopping US 2015 report found 47% of surveyed consumers compare prices online for big ticket items during the holiday season. Shoppers are also looking for freebies to enhance their holiday shopping experience. In fact, some 62% said free shipping is one of the top offers that would improve their holiday shopping experience, followed by free gifts with purchase (46%). Free gifts can help reinforce customer loyalty, which is why many telecommunications service providers have started offering freebies for their customers — no purchase required — around the holidays.

Similar to its Connection Day campaign last year, Verizon offered a day of freebies to customers on Nov. 25 — the day before Thanksgiving, which is the busiest US travel day of the year. Rebranded “Thanksgetting,” the online event enabled any consumers who signed up to get free digital gifts, such as Wi-Fi, an iTunes gift card, premium music streaming and more. Additionally, Verizon customers received 1GB of free data for their current billing cycle, plus another free 1GB free the following billing cycle.

The freebies were relevant for travelers, who would likely remain glued to their smartphones while navigating airports, riding on trains, or sitting in cars. Plus, because Verizon’s Thanksgetting occurred before Thanksgiving, it was less likely to become lost in the Black Friday Weekend marketing crush. The event may also have helped put Verizon, and Thanksgetting partner brands, top of mind ahead of the big shopping weekend.

Sprint also ran a free gift giveaway for its loyal customers called “Cheers to You.” Sprint’s event ran Dec. 7-11, allowing Sprint customers to claim five days’ worth of freebies (while supplies lasted), such as a free year of Amazon Prime, an early device upgrade, and 10% savings on iTunes gift cards. Sprint paired the giveaway with its “Holiday Hero” campaign, through which customers could nominate a deserving hero for the chance to win an LG G4 phone and a year of free service for themselves and the nominated hero. With Holiday Hero, Sprint encouraged its customers not just to get something for themselves, but for someone else, as well.

T-Mobile offered its customers free data. The “Un-carrier” announced that on Nov. 24 Simple Choice postpaid customers (including business customers) would receive three months of unlimited data as part of “Un-carrier Unwrapped.” The free gift kicked off four weeks of holiday offers from T-Mobile. Other key offers targeted prospects, and included an extra $200 incentive for Sprint subscribers, a reduced price on the iPhone 6s available to current AT&T customers, and a free year of Hulu and half-off accessories for Verizon customers, all in an effort to encourage them to switch to T-Mobile.

One quarter of US shoppers are proud when they get deals & tell their friends and family about them

These holiday giveaways speak to the bargain-hunting nature of many consumers, which becomes heightened at this time of year. Making some of the freebies available to prospects enables marketers to build awareness beyond the customer base, and because prospects must submit an email to claim the freebies, marketers can build their list of prospective customer email addresses. Meanwhile, reserving the higher-value gifts for existing customers is important in making loyal customers feel valued and rewarded.

Finally, among both prospects and existing customers, these holiday giveaways are likely to help spur word of mouth marketing. Mintel’s The Budget Shopper US 2014 report found that one quarter of shoppers are proud when they get deals and tell their friends and family about them. So, even as consumers indulge a little in these free gifts from their carrier, they can spread the wealth by encouraging friends and family to participate, too.

Emily Groch is Mintel Comperemedia’s Director of Insights, Telecommunications. She provides omni-channel marketing analysis and competitive insights to wireless, TV, internet, over-the-top, and home security service providers across the U.S. and Canada.

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