Marketers Discover Sampling

Discussion
May 14, 2008

By George Anderson

Sampling works. It’s a known fact that giving consumers the opportunity to test a product (food, cars, fragrances, consumer electronics, musical instruments) increases the likelihood they will buy.

That’s why it’s a mystery in food retailing, for example, that companies such as Costco, Trader Joe’s and Wegmans sample products continually while the vast majority of grocers either dabble or steer clear of the practice altogether.

Recently, as an article on AdAge.com pointed out, marketers are rediscovering sampling and seeking to turn them into events to launch new products.

McDonald’s, for example, is rolling out a new Southern Style Chicken Biscuit and a Southern Style Chicken Sandwich and plans to give a free sample of the items (depending on day-part) to any consumer who purchases a beverage at one of its fast food restaurants on May 15. The chain has started running spots on television to alert consumers to the offer of its free chicken items. It expects to give away up to 8 million sandwiches over the course of the day.

Marta Fearon, director-U.S. marketing at McDonald’s, told AdAge.com that the company saw the impact of sampling when it gave away chicken strips during the initial roll-out five years ago. Sales for the product were well above the chain’s expectations. More recently, McDonald’s sampled its McSkillet burrito in February and saw same-store sales increase eight percent.

Others including Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Honest Tea have also jumped on the sampling bandwagon.

Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea, is a true believer.

“How many messages are people hit with every day? It’s the quality of impressions [that are important], if you were to look at conversions to consumers. I would trade 100 media impressions for one person-to-person, cup-to-mouth sampling impression,” he told AdAge.com.

Discussion Questions: Where do you see sampling heading? Do you have suggestions on what types of sampling work best? Will more companies, for example, try to make mass media events out of the introduction/sampling of new products?

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19 Comments on "Marketers Discover Sampling"


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Ben Ball
Guest
14 years 11 days ago
Somewhere along the way, every marketer in America has been associated with a less than stellar new product. And they have learned the Golden Rule of Sampling–the hard way. Don’t do it unless you have an outstanding product AND one that can easily be prepared to that outstanding quality by the average sampling person using the normal appliances available. If you do ANYTHING that requires something outside this “normal sampling environment” you risk disaster and will probably get it. Those dire warnings behind us, let’s turn to the reasons the Costco/Trader Joe’s/Whole Foods/Sam’s Club style sampling works so well. #1 is that they make it a regular part of their in-store merchandising routine, so they get good at it. #2 is that they either have food prep facilities in-store (so they can demo their own rotisserie chicken directly from the kitchens) or they only do products requiring little or no prep beyond heat, cut, serve. There is also the question of getting the demo in the right daypart, environment, etc. My local Jewel tries liquor… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
14 years 11 days ago
Sampling has to be done correctly. I was in Toledo last week and visited The Andersons stand alone grocery that is primarily dedicated to perishables. They were sampling about 20 different items from various departments. All were either prepared on site or were fresh fruits or vegetables. Then I went into Giant Eagle, which I normally consider a good operator. They were sampling something from the frozen food department that comes out of a box. Now how good can something that comes out of a box be? Last week at FMI I was in a Fresh & Easy store. Their sampling kitchen featured potato chips in a small paper cup. They seem to be on a crash and burn course. I think the key to sampling is to offer your best signature items. Not something that comes out of a box or bag. A local chain in Milwaukee called Sendiks always allows me to taste before I buy from the deli. So sampling really should go further than just having a demonstrator with a card… Read more »
Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
14 years 11 days ago

I cannot believe these retailers have finally figured it out. What are the odds that people will be more inclined to buy a product they have had the opportunity to actually try?

Having said that, the real trick is to make it work. Standing in front of the counter with a tray of cold chicken nuggets just won’t cut it. McDonald’s has the right idea in turning it into a media event. However I am not a big fan of customers having to make a purchase to get the free sample. That would not exactly make it “free,” would it?

Five tips to any retailer wanting to make sampling a success: Make it really free with no strings attached. Where possible, place the packaged product within arm’s reach of the sample display. Have the display run by an outgoing attendant touting the virtues of the product. Offer a special price. When applicable, place some exterior signage announcing the arrival of a new product.

Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Guest
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
14 years 11 days ago

Sampling works best when an item is being introduced. We were at Costco the other day and came across All Natural Gourmet Wonderbars. These are low cholesterol, non GMO fruit and nut energy bars. We were so impressed that we bought several boxes! If it wasn’t for this opportunity to taste, we would not have bought them because we would not buy a box of an item and then come home and find out we do not like it. It would be money wasted!

It is not only sampling and tasting that is important, but it is also important where the item is located in the store. The Wonderbars we bought were being sold right at the table where we tested them so we did not have to go hunting for them in the store.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
14 years 11 days ago

I have never understood why grocers don’t invest more in sampling. The ability to try products with no investment opens consumers up to a much more real experience than ads and coupons can ever accomplish. Like any out of the box activity, however, sampling requires effort and execution out of the norm and many grocers are on automatic pilot when it comes to store operations. You would think that businesses would look at Costco, Wegmans, etc, and see the connection.

Tomorrow is free chicken and free iced coffee day at McDonald’s and Dunkin’Donuts. I’ll be in line!

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
14 years 11 days ago

Getting your product into the hands or mouths of prospects is why marketers exist. As previously noted, it is extraordinarily important to understand the process and how to execute sampling as a well thought-out strategy.

* Check out Team Enterprises http://www.teament.com, to read about a company whose only mission is to serve their client’s products. * Read: The Paradox of Choice: Why more is less by Barry Schwartz.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
14 years 11 days ago

I don’t think it is a mystery why more supermarket retailers don’t sample more. They view there stores as a box with shelves, and on the shelves are products that are to be sold to consumers. Their role, as they see it, is to but the product on the shelves, keep the stores clean, allow the customers to take the product off of the shelves, and collect their money. They do not see their stores as destinations, as events, as experiences. Those few retailers that do get it, many of which have been mentioned in the article–but we also need to mention retailers like Stew Leonard’s–they have proven that sampling sells more products, and results in repeat visits.

Why don’t more retailers do this? It is a long-term ROI, and it is hard to measure, and it is difficult to do it right. Most retailers choose to take the easy way out, and don’t want to think, or take samples, out of the box.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
14 years 11 days ago
Sampling is difficult for retail to do because of a lack of samplers. The warehouse clubs jumped on sampling early because they were selling non standard products, much of which was being sold for resale. “This is what your customers will taste” works well for an entity that is purchasing for resale. A housewife has to consider what her brood’s expectations are and purchases more to satisfy expectations rather than deliver an experience. Think back to when your kids were 5 or 6 years old. They like what they are used to and are not adventurous eaters. Much of the CPG product that is sampled is done via direct mail. Besides, you can’t try new and improved Tide in the store. The supposed discovery of sampling by fast food is merely the replay of the deli owner or butcher sharing a bit of his wares to broaden his business. To say “Marketers Discover” makes a genius out of anyone with enough sense to read a history book. This is what consultants do!
Brian Hart
Guest
Brian Hart
14 years 11 days ago
Supermarket sampling can be expensive when compared to alternatives. High volume stores at peak traffic times are a no-brainer–but most retailers won’t allow that type of supplier store cherry picking and force chain-wide executions. Also, the demo companies should alter their model some too; they generally only run the demos during “mother’s hours,” not aligned to peak traffic and peak–for some–target demographics. Sampling is smartly part of the club channel’s model because: (1) many of the foods and brands were born in food service and not simply larger packs of supermarket products (2) the packs are so large sampling reduces the risk that their family will not like the product (3) it contributes to the shopping experience–makes it fun to bring the kids, and serves as lunch for the retired folks. In-store sampling’s competition includes the use of household level data; identify your products potential high volume consumers and go a step further and give them a full size free sample to try at home…with the whole family. This is one of Catalina Marketing’s best… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 11 days ago

When Tide was invented, they made a deal to put a free box into every automatic washer sold in America. Not for a week. For more than a decade. Not just one washer brand. Every brand. Tide has been #1 in the clothing detergent category forever.

Considering the minimal effectiveness of mass media, sampling is the least expensive way to drive trial of any food, beverage, or HBA product. The manufacturer can distribute coupons good for 100% of the purchase price, if there’s concern over the logistics of trial size distribution.

Of course, mass media drives “brand awareness” which often has nothing to do with purchase behavior. Sampling drives purchase. But ad agencies don’t get commissions from sampling. They get media commissions.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
14 years 11 days ago

Getting the chance to taste-test a new product before plunking down our hard earned cash is great! Yet, I assume there must be some liability insurance issues involved with providing free samples of food in supermarkets. What if the meat is not properly heated?–what if there is peanut residue in the cookies that cause an allergic reaction?–what if there is tampering or contamination? Etc. I LOVE free samples straight from the grill or toaster oven, but in this litigious society there are dangers in addition to big potential benefits in providing open “tastes.” I think the trend will be more toward sealed tight packages of samples. (Unfortunately that eliminates hot pizza!)

Kai Clarke
Guest
14 years 11 days ago

Sample, sample, sample. The costs are small, the returns outweigh the costs, and the development of loyal customers creates a value proposition for a product that is difficult to find. These stores use this process because it works, and they have the sales to prove it. The others don’t use it, because they are stuck in a paradigm of costs that ignores the obvious results of their competitors. These companies have to either develop a new module or they will eventually become replaced by those retailers who already embrace this.

Mark Burr
Guest
14 years 11 days ago
I’ve never seen product sampling done any better than Costco. From all appearances, it’s done by their staff, their choice of products, and done the way they want it done. It’s always done with the opportunity to purchase the product right on that spot. Even further, in a supermarket, there is the opportunity to build an entire meal merchandising offer with the product, thus making meal choices easy and expanding the sale. Where I have seen poor sampling done is with outside services that provide temporary workers to do the sampling. It’s then out of your control. For sampling to be effective, it must be engaging. When it’s not, it’s just another annoyance in the shopping experience equally akin to the charitable organization at a highway intersection. Effective sampling could have a significant role in how Costco continues to report eight percent plus same store sales increases on their periodic financial reports. Effective and engaging sampling can and should increase the share of your customers wallet, thus growing sales store by store one customer and… Read more »
Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
14 years 11 days ago

Sampling has always been a big expense in interior furnishings, but traditionally it had been samples that the designer brought into the interior space and then took back after the selection was made.

With more and more consumers purchasing through direct channels, retailers have developed sophisticated material sample programs that are free or come with a nominal fee. These programs increase conversion greatly. It is a good investment, since the cost to fulfill the material swatch is usually only a tiny fraction of the cost of the finished product.

James Tenser
Guest
14 years 11 days ago
Where do you see sampling heading? Do you have suggestions on what types of sampling work best? Will more companies, for example, try to make mass media events out of the introduction/sampling of new products? David Sommer’s notion that some brands are re-purposing ad dollars into sampling programs is intriguing. Right now there’s much discussion about the shift of brand spending from mass media into the retail environment. All those dollars are apparently not destined for digital sign programs. Worth analyzing is what distinctions may exist between sampling programs in the fast-serve restaurant trace versus sampling in supermarkets and clubs. A free biscuit or donut builds good will for the restaurant’s brand and may make a new product more familiar. The hoped-for outcome, I think, is return business and a generally positive word-of-mouth or even media buzz for the chain. A bite-sized sample at Costco or Trader Joe’s is designed to generate immediate interest in a product offered for sale. I observe these usually tend to be prepared or convenience food items. (Yes, David, very… Read more »
Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
14 years 11 days ago

Scheduling and doing product sampling takes a little more effort and management involvement; need we say more as to why it isn’t more widespread? Anyone wanting to know how it should be done just needs to visit Costco. They do it every day, at multiple locations in the store, prepare the items properly, have the same trained staff doing it every time, signage as to where to find the items being sampled (and it’s usually close by), and generally do an excellent job. We have bought many things after sampling them that we wouldn’t have bought otherwise.

Many manufacturers also subsidize product sampling which further reduces the costs associated with this activity making it a true “no brainer” in my view.

Gerry Marrone
Guest
Gerry Marrone
14 years 10 days ago
Well, all indications are that sampling will continue to grow–which is good news. More companies are looking for new and innovative ways to get samples into consumers mouths–but please don’t lose sight of a few things: * The vast majority of sampling in-store is done by independent contractor labor–even Costco! This labor force has proven to be do a good job at basic sample execution, and not so good a job at higher level consumer interaction. * What gets measured, gets done! Far too many manufacturers are spending millions of dollars on sampling programs without knowing what they are really getting. And I’m not just talking about whether the demonstrator showed up–those days are long gone! What is the Customer Experience that is taking place? What is the effect of that experience on the brand–both positive and negative? And most importantly, how is it being measured? The future does look bright for the sampling business, but the marketers that begin to apply sound measurement systems, on a consistent basis across their entire promotion platform will… Read more »
Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
13 years 11 months ago

Sampling makes sense. The more astute retailers will incorporate sampling into their marketing plans for name brand and private label products as well as meal solutions. I agree with David Livingston’s comment that, “the key to sampling is to offer your best signature items.”

Sue Fraser
Guest
Sue Fraser
13 years 11 months ago

Sampling works. It is a foolproof way to get product into the consumer’s hands before making a purchase. The right mix of product, demonstrator and retail environment must come together to ensure an effective program. Too many companies are looking to the internet to staff programs, stepping over the regional sampling companies who understand the pieces needed for a good program. Sampling creates awareness, educates and boosts sales when done correctly but it must be done at the hands of demonstrators who enjoy people and can enthusiastically speak to a particular product. Proper preparation is a must!

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