I get this question a lot: If a company sends you a product for free in exchange for a review, can you sell it? Can you sell it on Amazon? At a consignment shop? Or elsewhere? Good question.
The answer is not as black-and-white as one would think.
What does Tristan do?
I give most of them away; keeping only a handful of items. For awhile I was filling up bags with anything that I didn’t want to keep and dropping them off at the local Goodwill. Now I take the vast majority of the items to work and give them away—my teammates are pretty stoked on that! Some items we give to friends.
I have never sold a product that was given to me in exchange for a review. It’s a personal policy I have.
It’s certainly not against the law. In the vast majority of review-in-exchange agreements the item is yours, you own it free and clear. It’s just, in my opinion, unethical to sell it on the very platform (be it Amazon or Newegg or Etsy) you get it from for free. Maybe unethical is a bit strong, but the purpose behind giving away products is more than the reviews.
What’s the point of companies giving products away then?
The reviews aren’t the only thing the business is after. By sending out 100%-off coupon codes to dozens of people, they are inflating sales which—in Amazon’s case— can trigger the algorithm to showcase their product with other products. A week or so after the free products are shipped, a flood of reviews come in and that buoys the product in Amazon searches, too. Organic sales usually rise because of this, repeating/buoying the cycle. It’s a great way to jumpstart organic sales: give X-number of products away in the hopes that even more products are purchased organically at full price.
How does selling it online hurt the company and the reviewers?
If the reviewers all sold their free products in the same space, it negates the boost the company is looking for. This can backfire by sending the wrong signal to the company that giving away products doesn’t help sales, and companies could abandon the practice of review-in-exchange, leaving us reviewers with far less companies asking us to review.
Like my dad used to say, “Don’t throw the trout’s guts back into the lake: it scares away the other trout. Feed it to the land animals while you fish for more trout.”
Is it illegal to sell the free products on Amazon?
This is where things are in a bit of an ethical gray area more than legal grounds. In my opinion it depends on how you got the product to how light/dark that gray area becomes:
I am a reviewer for I Love to Review, where some of the products offered are not free but at a deep discount. (Recently a $99 product was offered at $15.) In this case, one could make the argument that they bought it and can therefore resell it whenever and however they want.
In this case, I refer to the section above: I believe it hurts the companies and reviewers to flood the platform with a bunch of used product. This is a zero-sum game, and to be honest you don’t make enough money to be worth it (see below.)
I have to sell this stuff to live! Where and how can I do it?
Ok, some of you will ignore the advice above and feel you really must sell the stuff you get. My recommendation is simple: do NOT sell it on the platform you received it from. AND, out of respect, please do not sell it on any platform the seller does business.
If a seller on Etsy or Amazon asks for a review-in-exchange, and that is the only place they sell, then you should consider selling it on ebay or elsewhere.
If you really must sell it, I HIGHLY recommend you consider selling it at a local consignment shop, a yard sale or in your local Craigslist.
Truth is you don’t make much money (or any money, for that matter)
The truth of the review-in-exchange ptractice is that the vast majority of the products offered are either not able to be resold (consumables such as food, supplements, beauty supplies, or intimate items such as socks/underwear, sex toys, pillows and anti-snore devices) or items of low-quality and or low resale value (cheap Bluetooth headphones, and just about everything in the $5-15 range.)
While I have gotten items that retail at over $100, these are rare or uncommon for the vast majority of reviewers. Most of the items I have been asked to review are rarely over $30, mostly in the $5-15 range. To resell these items means you would net about 10-50% of the retail value, again due to them often being from obscure companies/brands or of cheap quality and appearance.
Again, if you are looking to get into the review-in-exchange game to make money, I HIGHLY recommend you stop before you get disappointed. Here’s how much time it takes (on average):
- 5-10 mins to handle the initial email and purchase of the product
- another 5-15 mins receiving, unboxing and (sometimes) setting it up
- (depending on the product) another hour to a few days (or more!) to use the product enough to be able to understand it completely and write a good review
- then about 10-45 mins writing a good, solid review (not those crappy one-liners!)
- If you add in the time to post and sell the product, that could tack on another 10-60 mins, or more!
As you can see, a $15 set of headphones will take you at least an hour and 20 mins to fully and respectfully review, but some products can take longer. Even if you were to sell them for $10 (good luck on that), you would effectively be making $7 an hour on your review work (even less since when you factor in how long it takes to post, sell and ship an item.) And for products you can’t manage to sell, you make $0 an hour. There are far easier ways to make more money.