Almost Free Day Recap

It went as planned, almost.

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Hello!

Unless you were under an internet rock you may have noticed that we reanimated Free Day a couple weeks ago. Despite a few hiccups, this Free Day iteration went better than any previous one, at least from a logistical perspective. We found some more weaknesses in our internal systems that we'd like to shore up, as well as a few planning errors we can fix to make things even smoother in future years. Let's get in to the numbers!

The Sale of Lincoln

A few random stats:

  • 1629 unique customers bought one of the four sale SKUs that day
  • 72 percent increase in domestic page views to product pages, compared to other Wednesdays this summer
  • 36 percent of customers who got a free board were first-time customers
  • 3007 orders were placed by customers on Almost Free Day

Below we have a chart that shows the distribution of orders made throughout the day. While a vast majority of people (1192) only bought one $0.01 board, there were several others who managed to snag more than one. One customer even managed to grab 49, with the assistance of a script. Overall, 392 customers got more than one $0.01 board. While it wasn't our intention for any one person to get more than a few $0.01 SKUs, it's always interesting to see how our customers create ways to give themselves a leg up on Free Day.

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Next we have a chart showing the distribution of how many people bought a $0.01 based on when they became a SparkFun customer. We have seven very loyal people who participated in Almost Free Day this year, with SparkFun histories dating back to when we started keeping records in 2006. Thank you 2006ers! As expected, more and more participants came from the past few years. Free Day also brought a lot of new people into the SparkFun fold, as 36 percent of customers who bought $0.01 boards were new.

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What did we learn, and what do we want to improve? Well, several things. One of our biggest headaches was combining customer orders. This is currently done manually by our customer service team, and with 392 people making multiple orders this was a huge challenge for them. They finished the job in record time and, along with our shipping department, we cleared the backlog of orders in under three days. Going forward we will further try to limit the ability of people making multiple orders, especially with scripts. We will be looking into implementing a "one SKU per customer" tool that we have not yet developed. Finally, while we had the least amount of down time of any Free Day yet by far, we'll still look to improve our web site's ability to handle a few thousand people clicking on it in the same second. At least the servers didn't catch on fire...

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Photo from gizmodo.com

Finally, some thank yous. Almost Free Day is a full-company event. From the engineers who designed the products; to the purchasing team that bought the parts; to the production team who built them; to the marketing team who let you know it was happening; to SWIT, who kept the website going; to tech support and customer service, who processed every order; and packaging and shipping who got the orders out, this day creates a challenge for every person at SparkFun

Last but definitely not least, we'd like to give a big thank you to all those who participated. We love spreading our insatiable desire to tinker and build, and are happy we could share this day with you! We'd like to hear your stories about Free Day in the comments below. Tell us what you got, what you'll make or what else you'd like to see on Free Day! Here's to future, even better Free-ish Days – cheers!


Comments 23 comments

  • All in all I think it went pretty well, at the very least it was the second "free" day I have been able to successfully participate in since Free days started being a thing so I'm all smiles :)

    Managed to snag an order in the first wave, did mull over placing a few more orders but decided against it. Figured it'd be nicer to give more people a chance to snag some nifty stuff too. Ended up landing the USB Lilypad which was on the top of my short list of boards I wanted from the grab bag :)

    Thinking about integrating it into an art project I'm probably never going to get finished :P

  • Note to my future self. Don't order (3) coin cell batteries (CR2032) with your Almost Free Day SKU. Cheapest shipping was $15, and I went ahead with it without realizing that the batteries somehow changed the shipping cost.

    It wasn't until I placed another order later in the afternoon (for ONLY the Almost Free SKU) and saw the shipping was only $5, that I realized I screwed myself by including those coin cells. Adding insult to injury, I realized I had 8 more of these batteries in the junk drawer. Doh!

  • I did not know about the combined shipping and took the gamble regardless. I ordered 3 Almost-Free items and paid the shipping individually for each. Wound up with a Redboard, MP3 player shield, and a Lilypad :-D About $70 worth of electronics! I had to pay about $15ish for shipping, but the gamble paid off! (What did we need to do to enable combined shipping? I missed that at checkout, since I thought I was being oh-so-sneaky by creating multiple orders, I wasn't going to try to argue the point of multiple orders being wasteful)

    Putting all 3 Almost-Free-Day components together (with some batteries, speakers, LEDs and thread) and I have the brains for a fully light-and-sound enabled cosplay!

  • I just took the survey. FWIW, I was really hoping for a place to enter "Any other comments you'd like to make?" at the end.

    One of the things I really like about SparkFun is the ability to make comments on anything. I've held your website up as an example to several totally unrelated folks as an outstanding customer interface. (Even though I occasionally am a bit mystified by the categorization of products -- 3D filament under tools? Really?)

    • Thanks for the comment! We definitely appreciate feedback on every channel. We tried to keep the survey as short as possible in this case. If you ever have anything you want us to know you can write a message in the "What's on your mind" box at the bottom of the page. As for the filament I'm sure our catalog department will keep that in mind.

  • I got a couple 1 cent boards and I made the "mistake"?! Of telling my woman that you guys were having a sale on boards for a penny! Well it wasn't a mistake she ended up with better stuff than me! So I(she) got a Lillypad which I've wanted to mess with and the Lilly twinkle kit (that is going on something for her, for buying from Sparkfun!) I told quite a few people about it and I know for sure a guy from India was really mad he couldn't get in on it(server issues) Since the rupee to dollars isn't too great and he has been wanting an Arduino forever! I would say next time rent server time or something or make it only so many per hour available and make it an all day thing! Instead of the mad dash and crash of everyone over clicking ORDER at the same time! Great job to the folks at Sparkfun for almost free day! Thanks for the deals and getting me into trying something new and getting my lady an account on Sparkfun, Now I just got to drop hints about what I want for Christmas from Sparkfun Heehee!

  • Showed up an hour too early to "Almost Free Day" (wrong time zone) ooops. When I came back, it was a mad dash to put the SKU in my cart. Despite the lag, I somehow managed to get through the checkout process not once, but twice in a matter of minutes. I contemplated pushing my luck but ultimately decided that I got a heck of a deal and 2 boards for 2 cents was a steal. Not sure if it was luck of the draw or what, but ended up with 2 different boards a RedBoard and a Big Easy Driver. I know a few people were worried about getting a duplicate board. Oddly enough these are just the things I needed for an incubator I've been wanting to build for sometime now. Thank you Spark Fun! It's like you read my mind and sent just what I was hoping for. This was my 2nd and 3rd purchase from you guys but definitely not my last! I check your site out daily to view tutorials, see if there is anything new, and lastly to window shop until I can make a decision on what my next purchase will be since I wan't to buy everything!

  • My opinion is combined shipping shouldn't have been allowed.

    It would also be neat if the price went up exponentially for each additional item, that would stop people from taking too many of the item.

    • The guy who got 49 picked up locally. (It wasn't me), but I also did a local pickup for a few boards. This means that the "combined shipping" wasn't a factor. There were a number of other people picking up multiple board orders for pennies. Only wish I could have paid on pick up.

    • I think that is an awesome suggestion, even though I got 4. I didn't understand I could combine orders. I think explaining exponential growth to general population (or even potential Sparkfun customers) may prove disastrous.

  • I love the idea of using the discount to get people out of their comfort zone working with platforms they haven't before. I have been torn between trying to swap with other people, and digging into what I got and making something I wouldn't have otherwise attempted. Any chance we will get to hear the breakdown on how much of each was sent out?

    • We actually had 10 products and 300 of each built out. We should have sent out all 3000 so it was an equal distribution.

  • Oh man, good thing I didn't know about the combined shipping or I would have bought a bunch more, I paid the $4.95 SH fee on each order and hoped that I was getting a board that was of a higher worth, which I did.

  • There's a bug on the survey question about the users preferred programming language. I didn't check any box but filled in the "other" field. Then when trying to go to the next page, it said I must answer that question. So I clicked the javascript box but put a note that I don't actually use it. I sent a note to customer service about it.

    Side issue: assembly language was not included as a choice; looking forward to see the results of the survey published here.

  • More servers! The site was almost completely unresponsive on my end. I gave up after spending 15-20 minutes waiting for it to load. Also, I was unsure if a $0.01 order had to be placed along with a regular order or not.

  • This was my first Free Day and it was a lot of fun! I managed to snag 5, and would have gone for more if I knew that the combined shipping was the same price as shipping just one. Oh well.

    I don't think it's a such a bad thing to let people get more than one (though 49 seems excessive). Of the boards I got, 2 were things I could use in a project I'm currently planning (LilyPad USB and LilyTwinkle bundle), 1 was something I'll find a use for but don't have one right now (LED array), 1 was something I've wanted but couldn't justify buying (Weather Shield), and 1 will probably never get used (Mp3 Shield), but I'll keep it around in case it comes in handy on a future project. In terms of likelihood of me needing/wanting to come back to SparkFun, 5 seems to be a good number for me. If I was limited to 1 and got one of the boards I wouldn't ever use (i.e. the servo driver) it wouldn't have been any fun and wouldn't have been worth the trouble for SparkFun as it's not going to increase revenue from me at all (ok, there's the new customer aspect, but I work in finance, not marketing :-p). But with 5 boards, the likelihood of me getting something I'll actually use greatly increases. Now I'll need to come back and buy some bits and pieces for my wearable project, buy a RedBoard and weather meters for my weather shield, and who knows, maybe some day I'll be working on something that just has to have sound.

    Overall it was a great experience and I hope you guys keep doing them in the future!

    • Appreciate your feedback Bryan! I'm glad you got some boards that you can use in your project. I agree in an ideal scenario having the opportunity to get a few boards would be the best option. I'd just like to spread the wealth even more so more people could be involved. Hope you end up finding a use for the MP3 shield or someone who does!

    • Hey, Bryan M, I'm (eventually, though not likely this year) going to include my MP3 Shield into something for Halloween -- making some "weird" noises to "entertain" the trick-or-treaters. (See my follow-up post on the Almost Free Day.)

      • Good idea. I'll be done with my current projects by early September (hopefully), so that'll be just in time to start something new for Halloween....

  • Is the survey working? I filled it in and hit next only to get back to a blank survey page (using Chrome)

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