Dazzling Them with Demos
By George Anderson
Warehouse clubs such as Costco do it. Niche grocers such as Trader Joe’s do, too. Upscale merchants such as Marshall Field’s definitely do it, and not just with perfume.
What these and a growing number of retailers are doing is stepping up the amount and quality of in-store product demonstrations because shoppers love it and it moves product.
Denise Rice, a mother of three, looks forward to her trips to Costco. She told the Kansas City Star, “When they’re set up with six or eight booths, I can have lunch.”
Retailers such as Costco understand that while Ms. Rice and others are taste testing products in the store, they’re also spending more time there and that invariably adds up to increased sales, even if the sampled product isn’t purchased.
Wayne Lafollette, a grocery manager with Price Chopper, said that has led stores to increase sampling activity. “Sampling has been around, but it was nothing like they do now”, he said. Mr. Lafollette has been in the grocery business for 35 years.
Dan Borschke, executive director of the National Association for Retail Marketing Services, said it’s not just about the amount of demos but the presentation, as well. “It’s food entertainment,” he said.
Moderator’s Comment: What is involved in developing a successful demo strategy and then executing it successfully in stores? –
George Anderson – Moderator
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13 Comments on "Dazzling Them with Demos"
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First, I believe they work better with less affluent shoppers and people looking to snack in the store. For these programs to work effectively, you need to have people who are trained or versed in the product they are trialing and they need to have a little passion. I have seen both extremes and have only bought from the ones that had a little passion and “salespersonship.”
Product demonstrations work well in upscale stores as well as other, less affluent venues. The keys to a successful demo include, most importantly, having enough product on hand to sell! Don’t run out of product. I emphasize this because many demos don’t reach their potential because the consumer has nothing to buy.
Make certain that the person who is providing the sample is knowledgeable about the product, is enthusiastic, and that the area where the sample are being presented is clean and inviting. Including recipes and health oriented information — if appropriate — moves product.
Most shoppers are looking for novelty. If it tastes good and looks like something they can execute at home…it usually ends up in the market basket.
Spending a little extra to get good demo people would be my first priority. There is nothing I hate more than going into a supermarket, supercenter, or warehouse club and being offered a sample from someone who does not look clean or appealing, along with a disgruntled attitude.
I was in Puerto Rico a couple of years ago visiting a Wal-Mart SuperCenter. In Puerto Rico, being a demo person in a store is considered a “good job.” I only saw beautiful women with outgoing personalities working the demos. These women seemed to be getting a lot of respect from the customers, whereas, in the US, the job is considered somewhat demeaning.
The sizzle sells the steak. Go to any state fair and see who is getting the most attention demonstrating their products — professional demonstrators/entertainers or some temp worker off the street.
As with anything, it’s all about execution. If a retailer really decides they want to demo product for the purposes of incremental sales increases, then they will develop a real program. If not, then you’ll see the most common form of demos. That is, a paper table cloth on a card table, with something cooking in an aged electric frying pan, usually a senior aged person, a vocabulary of only ‘Would you like to try ___ today,” and nothing to ‘go with’ surrounding the demo. It’s a matter of ‘we have to,’ not a matter of we believe in it and really want to use this to enhance the experience. So, in the end, this, like anything else, is a matter of execution.
The word I like and cringe about at the same time is ‘theatre.’ I’d settle for basic quality experience enhancement first. Then, graduate to the razzle dazzle that could carry the label of ‘theatre.’
With food demos, having suggested accompaniments available to taste with the demo product is important. But most important is having product and key ingredients right beside the demonstration that one can buy along with the recipe card so that trial becomes painless. Wegmans is another one who uses their chefs to demonstrate recipes – not just one product but a grouping of products. With the cost of one demonstration, several new products can be tried.
In non-food, particularly beauty aids, having a well versed spokesperson selling the benefits is imperative to gaining trial.
Income is not a factor in whether to do demos – more important would be their interest in the category.
All good points. Preparation is so important. If your product has special needs or you want a sense of theater, communicate that to the demo agency. Get your whole pitch to the demo people themselves; printed materials, etc. Maybe let the demo people take the product home the night before, so they can try it and be familiar with it. If the store is in a double-coupon market, factor that into your costs beforehand. Be realistic in your expectations. One study I saw said fewer than half (personally, I’d say a lot fewer than half) of shoppers try your demo’d product, and about 10% of them actually buy the product. And perhaps 10% of this final group become regular users. All this is on the optimistic side, in my opinion. So without a lot of foot traffic in your store, the payoff is slow. It’s more about building relationships over time than it is about ringing the register on the day of the demo.
Two thoughts spring to mind – the feel good factor and the wow factor. The former is what makes perfumes and makeovers so popular in department stores but can be applied to luxurious tastes as well when planning a food demo. Even a simple food, like an apple or a mango, not necessarily some hugely expensive handmade alcohol-filled chocolate, can do it. It’s all in the presentation, which is where the wow factor comes in. Whether kept sweet and simple or razzmatazzed up to the hilt, the product needs to stand out. And while I wouldn’t argue with David about the demonstrator looking neat and clean, I do not think that it is essential to hire gorgeous women or hunky men. The appeal should be in the product.
As a former supplier to Costco (Mrs. Fields Frozen Cookie Dough), we were not charged substantial slotting fees but were required to pay for demos. It worked out great, due to their professional demo staff, our product, and Costco’s reasonable distribution charges.
A demo requirement so far unmentioned is adequate room. Costco is set up, traffic and room-wise, to do it right. Cramming demo stations randomly into supermarket nooks and crannies, with no regard to traffic flow, can kill it quick. Supermarkets – where sidestacks and displays normally occupy odd spaces – don’t easily embrace product demonstrations.
Looking for a sales lift that is directly measurable to demos is like looking for direct results from any kind of marketing campaign. It cannot reliably be done. You can find a correlation between sales and marketing dollars spent, but you can always argue that sales would have gone up anyway.
Singling out demos as a more effective or less effective form of marketing is a quixotic quest – because marketing is not a science, it is an art. There will not be completely reproducible effects from the same process time after time.
I think retailers and manufacturers would be better off if they stopped pretending that they can get scientific results from any form of marketing program, demos or otherwise, and instead agreed to just spend some money on demos for reasons of atmosphere and brand recognition.
One segment where demos are extremely beneficial is Pet Supply retailers. Companies such as Nutro spend a significant portion of their marketing budget on in-store demonstrations and they’ve been extremely successful.