Trick or Treat – Are Samples Really that Effective?

Date: October 30, 2017
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Isn’t it just lovely when you get a treat-sized freebie sent to you with your order to the value of £20 or more? A mini this or that is perfect for those weekend away bags, perfect for passing through security at airports and stowing neatly into hand luggage, and for the overnight bags we keep stashed under the desk for when we work all-nighters (or when we have a heavy night entertaining clients!).

If you are anything like me, a – conveniently – small gift can tempt me in to making a purchase that I was otherwise on the fence about. And for the suppliers, product sampling is able to do what no other marketing medium can; put a physical product in the customer’s hands.

The power of samples

While good marketers are experts at pushing the benefits and advantages of a new product – either visibly or subliminally – they are often not so good at convincing customers to purchase said product. Often, the trick lies in letting them try before they buy.

“Product samples are a way of creating excitement,” explains Rico Cipriaso, a corporate marketing veteran. “Sending samples is one of the best ways to reproduce a store experience in the customer’s home.”

The statistics back up the idea that samples are a powerful way to win new customers. A survey carried out by Opinion Research Corporation[1] found that:

  • 81% of those surveyed said they will try a product after they receive a free sample
  • 61% said an actual product sample is the most effective way for a brand to get them to try a product
  • 65% said they would prefer samples to be mailed to their home rather than pick up instore
  • 89% said that an accompanying coupon would increase the value of a mailed sample box

All bogged down

But what happens what it gets to saturation point, and you find yourself opening every drawer in the house only to find a shed load of miniature samples? There are only so many weekends away or mini sun-breaks that someone can take, and how much do you really need to pack? Samples can’t be recycled in to presents (well, maybe the mother-in-law won’t notice!) and using them all up seems, ironically, a waste as they are the perfect size for… something.

So, are all these minis a ‘tempt me in’ treat, truly just a gift, or simply a mind trick? Whilst samples provide product exposure, it really is an expensive way to send tasters out directly to the bathroom cabinet or kitchen cupboard. The samples are most likely to also only reach your existing customer base via mail order packages or instore promotions. If this is the case, then the promotion will not lead to the great market study it is put in place to provide – it will not deliver an accurate number on just how many people would be interested in your new product. And of course, if it existing customers that receive the treat, then they are likely to already be somewhat loyal to your brand – will a small 5ml tube of face cream or one mornings worth of breakfast biscuits really sway their opinion of you. Would a different reward go further towards ensuring long term business relationships?

Positive behaviours

If the aim of the game is to highlight a new product and receive short term lift in basket value when reordering, then samples may be the way to go.

But before deciding on your reward and relationship building mechanism, it’s important to look at the facts. How much does it cost the manufacture to make treat size vs give online code for money off? Are treat size products enough to ensure longer-term loyalty for existing customers? Are you increasing your customer base?

The most important question of all is, of course, what behaviour are you looking to change or increase within your audience?

  • Do you want to increase long term basket value? If so, are you going to send new samples every month?
  • Do you want to drive loyalty? Then will a sample increase this loyalty, or just aid confusion between your offerings?
  • Do you want to increase your customer base? Well, will the samples reach a new audience?

Maybe consider giving money off as a normal sized item, and go for upselling or cross-selling. If you can get the customer into store, your staff can then talk with them on a personal level to let them know about why your products are better than others, the benefits, ‘the today only offers’ available. By using more of what you have will also save on carbon footprint, giving you yet another USP to shout about in our particularly green conscious society we live in. Besides who can argue with the sales assistant telling you this heart-warming story and how you have played a key role in saving our planet, whilst allowing yourself to indulge! Money talks!