How to take product sampling into the eCommerce space
Pop into a Costco any day around lunchtime and you’ll find the place swarming. It’s not just the massive quantities and wholesale deals that attract shoppers, either – it’s usually the samples.
Walk around any kiosk or visiting roadshow and you’ll see shoppers gathering around waiting for that hot chicken nugget or a tiny sip of soup. It might be one of the oldest tricks in the book, but product sampling is one gift that keeps on giving.
The data continues to support just how well product sampling works, too.
In fact, according to one research report, 73 percent of customers shared they were more likely to purchase a product after trying a sample, while only 25 percent of customers said they’d purchase after watching a commercial.
It makes sense. Trying a product on the spot appeals to the impulsive shopper in all of us and it propels uncommitted customers toward a purchase.
But what happens when you’re an ecomm business and you’re trying to reach new customers and drive brand awareness?
Ecomm brands are slowly taking product sampling into a digital space – partly because, let’s face it, brands often dig their heels in when it comes to giving things away for free (understandable) but also – how do you take a traditionally physical marketing tool and translate it into an online one?
Let’s dive in.
Product sampling + why it could work for your brand
Whether or not you offer product sampling depends on what you sell.
How do you test the waters to see if offering product samples is a good move for a brand in a digital space?
There are three traditional components as to why product sampling works so effectively in a customer’s shopping experience. Would offering samples fit into any of these categories?
- Sentiment – Samples bring your product to life for the customer. From taste to scent and overall experience, product sampling offers a chance to get (literally) hands-on with a product.
- Risk aversion – No one likes making a purchase only to find out it wasn’t the right thing for them. Samples are a great way to circumvent this experience and give shoppers a ‘no-risk’ opportunity to try something new.
- Reciprocity – After a customer gets a free sample, they usually feel like they owe something in return (aka purchasing a product from you at a later date).
If you answered yes, then offering samples – either alone or included with a purchase – could be a good option.
At the end of the day, offering samples is an easy way to attract new customers or get existing customers to try more of your inventory.
You know what else it does? It gives your ecomm business an opportunity to create a personalized shopping experience for your customer and as more shoppers go online to buy what they’re looking for, they’re also highly aware of a personalized or customized checkout (more on this later).
Aside from attracting new customers and giving them an opportunity to learn more about your brand and products through samples, ecomm brands actually have an advantage to handing out samples:
- It’s more efficient because shoppers can pick out exactly what they want to try
- Samples are delivered straight to their mailbox
- Customers can try samples in relevant environments to really get a feel for how they’d use a product in everyday life
Remember that point about how brands don’t usually prefer to give products away (for free)? That’s where a change needs to take place.
It’s not just giving away products – it’s using samples as part of an overall marketing strategy that connects with new customers, shares new products with existing customers, and creates brand awareness in the process.
If you don’t take advantage of building reach and awareness, then product sampling is just that: a useless freebie.
Thinking about sampling? Ask these questions first
The idea around product sampling isn’t new.
In fact, it’s one of the oldest and most powerful ways to market a product. Why? Because it does something for a brand that’s hard to replicate in other marketing mediums – it gets the product directly into the hands of a consumer.
One of the key factors in a good marketing strategy is sharing the benefits of a product to consumers. When a customer has a sample, it’s a good idea to hit on these key features:
- What does it do for them that other products aren’t fulfilling?
- How much easier is it to use than what they’re currently using?
- How does this new product fit into their current lifestyle or needs?
While the sample can do a lot of the heavy lifting, don’t miss out on the opportunity to reach the customer on an emotional level.
But with all the noise and marketing pushed front and center in the front of a shopper, even the most effective marketing strategy isn’t always enough.
Customers who don’t want to hear advertising or actively go to great lengths to avoid it. Offering a sample to a consumer is one way to get around that hurdle.
There’s something else to consider, too. Most consumers try something and if they like it enough, stick to it over time – sort of like that old adage: why fix something that’s not broken.
This tendency to stick to what is known adds a new challenge for brands. How do you get customers who are satisfied enough with what they’re using to try something new?
Product sampling is great for shoppers, but how does it benefit your brand?
Giving customers an opportunity to try out your brand’s products isn’t always about the sales, too (even though that’s a major benefit). It’s about building awareness and understanding between your product and shoppers.
Even the best copywriter can draft up sales copy for your brand, but at the end of the day, nothing competes with having an actual product in hand.
Let’s dive into just a few ways offering product samples benefits your brand:
1. It gets products into the hand of your ideal customer without much risk.
One of the most important factors for any brand is getting a new customer to try something for the very first time.
With sampling, this is an opportunity to make that happen.
Aside from the sensory benefit on the part of a shopper, brands can use this as a chance to build an emotional connection with potential customers.
You might be wondering, just how many shoppers use samples to help them in a buying journey? Here’s what the numbers show:
- Nearly 81 percent of shoppers take an opportunity to try a free sample if it’s available
- 49 percent of those shoppers then want to learn more about the product they’re sampling
It doesn’t matter who you ask – we all like samples. If nearly half the customers sampling your products want to learn more, you’ve got a good step up on competitors who aren’t offering a chance to try items.
2. Samples help build brand awareness.
Sometimes handing out samples isn’t just about the numbers.
For brands going through a launch or expanding product offerings, it’s a great way to build brand awareness and put your brand in front of customers who might not purchase it on a standard trip in-store or online.
Think about a customer who’s shopping online or in-store. They likely have a list of items they need and, once shopping, grab items they’re familiar with or used to purchasing. Simply seeing your product in a sea of other options isn’t always enough.
But what happens if you offer samples with a previous order or use social media as a way to get interested shoppers in trying something new? You catch their attention – which is hard to do both in an online space and physical store.
3. Samples help build brand loyalty
One of the first hardest parts of growing a brand is to get customers to try products in the first place. Next hardest (and arguably one of the most important)? Building loyalty.
Product sampling touches on both of these aspects.
First, people love FREE. Give them a sample of your product and you’ve already started off on the right foot with good impressions. Factor in the point about reciprocity as mentioned earlier and you’ve set a new customer down the path of potentially buying from your brand later on.
How to build a sampling program for customers in the ecomm space
Gone are the days where sampling is just handing out something for free. In a world where more shoppers are online, there are two different options emerging for how brands offer samples.
Another consideration? Not every industry is set up to offer samples or freebies – but that shouldn’t deter you from looking for new ways to get samples into the hands of your target market. Here’s what some brands are doing in the digital space that might provide some ideas:
For beauty ecomm brands, product sampling makes perfect sense and Kosas shows just how it can be done. Instead of handing out free samples, this beauty brand allows shoppers to buy products in tester form.
Kosas Tryouts gives customers an opportunity to select a range of products – ranging from foundation shades to mini deodorant.
Here’s how the sampling program works:
- Shoppers pick out samples and purchase.
In return, they have the option to try out various products before splurging on full size items and they get site credit for every dollar spent.
- Samples are delivered for customers to test.
For beauty products in particular, trying formulas in real lighting and everyday environments (as opposed to the artificial lights of a retail store) creates a better shopping experience for both shoppers and brands (to reduce return volume, especially).
- Money spent on samples is used as credit for future purchases.
Shoppers who find products they love can purchase full-sized items online at a discount by using credit accumulated through sample orders.
Another industry where risk-free buying comes in handy is fragrance. It’s not usually enough to get a spritz or two on a paper sample card when shopping for the next perfume or cologne.
The folks at Lucky Scent know how hard it is to shop for fragrance especially as the entire experience is very personal and what works on one body might not work on another (hence the reason why sample cards aren’t always ideal).
As a way to try out various scents in everyday settings, shoppers visiting Lucky Scent can choose small trial vials of a multitude of fragrances.
Lucky Scent goes a step further with the personalization process, too. In addition to purchasing sample packs, shoppers feeling unsure or overwhelmed by choices can opt for a ‘Fragrance Fitting.’ This is how it works:
- Shoppers add the Fragrance Fitting sample pack to an online shopping cart.
- During the checkout process, shoppers provide a little details as to what they’re looking for or what notes they love in a fragrance.
- Shoppers can provide as many details as possible so that custom scents are picked out. The more details a shopper offers, the more a custom pack is curated to fit those parameters.
Another option? Add samples to orders
If creating a sampling program like the ones mentioned here is not in the cards for your brand, there are additional ideas to consider.
For example, brands like Sephora and Nespresso both encourage shoppers to select samples that are then added to existing orders.
As it pertains to existing customers, this model works well when you have a loyal customer but want to entice them to try something new. For new product launches, this could be especially beneficial.
Product sampling isn’t new but for ecomm brands it’s an effective way to reach new customers when meeting them in a physical location isn’t possible. Here’s another point: even if samples are given in a retail space, it doesn’t always make sense for the customer and translate into sales.
Give your customers a chance to try new things at home, in their daily environment. That’s where true brand loyalty will develop and thrive.