Do Samples Drive Sales?

When Marsh Supermarkets in Indianapolis investigated the success of its in-store sampling programs in 2004, they saw sales growth ranging from 600% to 2000%. That’s the sort of success story that has made in-store sampling a grocery store staple.

As more transactions move online and retailers look for ways to reduce staffing costs, it is easy to balk at investing in these programs. Grocers striving to stuff their stores to meet every potential customer need can be wary about devoting space to giving away free product.

Yet despite the drawbacks, sampling programs can add enormous value to your store experience. Here are a few benefits of in-store samples:

Increasing Average Basket Size

For most retailers, the most important benefit of in-store samples is what they mean to the bottom line. Fortunately, research indicates that shopping basket spending increases more than 10% when in-store sampling is used effectively.

Balanced against how cost-effective in-store sampling can be, particularly when compared to other marketing initiatives, it would be short-sighted to ignore the power of free samples in your grocery store. With minimal staff commitment and the use of only a small amount of in-store real estate, samples have the potential to offer the biggest bang for your grocery store’s bucks.

Engendering Goodwill

It seems obvious, but it’s an easy lesson to forget: people respond positively to brands that treat them well.

According to Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University, “reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct… If somebody does something for you, you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.” That’s why, when given a free sample, most customers will at least offer a cursory interest in the product that you’re promoting.

Even customers who don’t buy that promoted product are more likely to remember your brand fondly once it’s been associated with free samples. Customer loyalty is a long-term investment, and this is one more opportunity to solidify that loyalty.

Collecting Immediate, On-the-ground Feedback

Before growing into internationally-recognized brands, Flickr was an online role-playing gameNintendo was a taxi company, and Suzuki made looms for Japanese weavers. Whether you’re launching a new brand or promoting a familiar name, there’s no telling how your products will shift and transform based on consumer feedback and needs.

In-store samples give you a chance to get direct, immediate feedback from your target consumers as they sample your products. Perhaps you’ll find that shoppers love the taste of your new deep-fried appetizers, but balk at the calorie count. Or maybe you’ll discover that the healthy snacks you’ve been marketing toward kids have a stronger-than-expected following among young professionals. Focus groups can only tell you so much; in-store sampling allows for honest, unfiltered feedback at the moment of purchase.

Improving the In-store Experience

In an effort to improve efficiency and compete with newer, more convenient competitors, many grocery stores have invested in the transactional side of their business without prioritizing the experiential side of it. Unfortunately, no matter how many self-checkouts you install, ordering staples like milk and eggs will always be faster online.

Despite speedier, more convenient options, millions of shoppers still make a weekly trip to Costco for the fun of wandering the aisles and trying new products. And who can resist the smell of barbecue outside a local supermarket, tempting us out of the parking lot? Offering in-store samples gives customers one more reason to visit your grocery store.

Building Relationships with Suppliers

Our own David Marcus, founder of David’s Condiments, credits in-store samples with his company’s growth and expansion.

“Being able to make a personal connection with shoppers – being able to look them in the eye, tell my story, and explain the benefits of my spices – made all the difference when it came to driving the purchase decision.”

For suppliers, particularly upstarts trying to break into the competitive food and beverage sector, in-store sampling is the most direct way to make those connections. By inviting suppliers to participate directly in the in-store experience, you’re empowering them to build relationships with customers without committing your own sales staff to the task

Whether partnering with a supplier or promoting a private label brand, in-store sampling programs are a perfect opportunity to foster customer trust and fealty. By putting new or altered products on the frontlines of the customer journey, you’re increasing basket size, connecting with shoppers, and exponentially multiplying consumer desire.

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