Niche Sampling Inc.

Trends in Product Sampling

February 14, 2018

Companies looking to get busy, budget-minded consumers to try out their products – and eventually buy them – frequently must do more than simply offer free samples in a public place. Shoppers increasingly make well-researched purchase decisions at home, and getting them to change buying habits takes more than one sampling in a mall or grocery store. Firms of all sizes are using a mix of variables – including location, media, technology, interaction and subscriptions – with the goal of converting samplers into loyal customers.


Research done in 2012 by the industry publication Marketing Week found that 89 percent of consumers surveyed find supermarkets as good sampling locations, and the majority would buy a grocery item if given a relevant coupon and the product was immediately available in the store. Some companies, however, choose sampling locations to reach specific target buyers at certain points in the day. The Belgian soy-products maker Alpro gives out free breakfast bags to morning commuters at train and bus stations in Europe, containing its soy milk with cereal, a spoon and some literature. In the afternoon it gives out dessert items such as pudding at the same locations.


Web and social media are increasingly used for targeted sampling. In 2012, General Mills tested a sampling to members of Que Rica Vida, a Hispanic lifestyle website with more than 300,000 members, offering discounted promotion-sized samplings of eight products, including new flavors of Cheerios, Hamburger Helper and Ocean Spray fruit drinks. Member-based websites, like Start Sampling, let companies offer free samples to target consumers, who in turn can place brand icons on their Facebook or Twitter page, where their friends can find out about the same sampling offers.


New technologies and delivery methods have helped companies offer samples while avoiding traditional challenges such as wastage, refrigeration issues and bulky package sizes. The research firm Sampling Effectiveness Advisors notes that companies such as First Flavor have devised quick-dissolving “edible film strips” that replicate the flavor of a product and can be distributed via individually packaged pouches. The strips, for instance, have been used for mass sampling of Sunny D fruit smoothies and other beverages. CPG Marketing Trends points to a prepaid card, developed in 2011 by Citi Prepaid Services and marketing firm Young America, that could be sent directly to consumers, who redeemed them for free, full-sized product samples at participating stores.

Interaction and Subscriptions

While attractive, interactive displays inside stores remain important in spurring first sampling, marketers are finding ways to encourage future sampling and buying by the same consumers. One is by reaching them at key moments of change in their lives. For example, the consulting firm Target Media Solutions created product “gift bag” sampling programs to reach customers of stores such as David’s Bridal and Destination Maternity. Makers of cosmetics and skin products have increased the use of subscription sampling, where consumers pay a small monthly fee to receive a “beauty box” filled with samples of the latest offerings from brands including Dior, NARS, Murad and Kinerase.

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