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Retail Reaction: How Sampling Puts Brands into Shoppers’ Hands

Retail brands want to grow their customer base and revenues; stores want to drive footfall and increase loyalty. Striking the right balance that benefits both parties — and of course consumers — takes a great deal of effort, resources and negotiating skill. But there’s a marketing strategy that ticks all those boxes while also ensuring the customer leaves the shop happy.

Sampling has been a tried-and-true retail marketing strategy for decades, and for good reason. According to a report by the Content Marketing Institute, it is the No. 1 content marketing tactic for effectiveness, with 87% of marketers using it.

But what makes sampling a part of brands’ marketing armory that is too good to ignore? Here are three key aspects of the approach to consider, followed by an example of great outcomes gained by one organization that believed in the power of sampling.

Give Shoppers an Inspiring Initial Experience with Your Products

One of the most significant benefits of sampling is that it allows your customers to experience your products for themselves before making a purchase. By giving customers a chance to try out a product with no strings attached, you can help eliminate doubts or concerns that potential customers may have. A survey found that 81% of consumers who tried a product for the first time through a free sample went on to purchase that item. That’s great news for store owners as well as brands.

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Brands can choose to either directly or indirectly sample their products. Direct sampling involves handing out samples directly to potential customers — this could be in and around a store or at other locations such as public events. Indirect sampling involves providing free samples to a target audience via a third party such as a magazine or influencer.

While direct sampling can be more effective in creating a connection with customers, indirect sampling can lead to a broader reach, helping a brand gain access to a new audience that they may not have otherwise been able to reach. Brands can gain both exposure and credibility through association with a third party. Indirect sampling can also be more cost-effective for brands than direct sampling because the third party may cover the costs associated with distribution and logistics.

Whichever route you choose, the desired result is consumers choosing your product over others when they’re standing in front of the shelf.

Gain Valuable Insights into Your Target Audience

By collecting feedback from customers who have sampled your products, you can glean valuable knowledge about what customers like or dislike about your products. This can be used to improve the product or position the product differently. In terms of retail the result can be a better customer experience, a boost in sales and ultimately an increase in customer loyalty.

Brands can choose to either conduct wet or dry sampling. Wet sampling involves providing customers with a freshly made product, while dry sampling involves giving customers pre-packaged products.

Wet sampling can be more effective in creating a memorable experience because they can taste and experience the product firsthand. However, it can also be more costly because it requires the brand to provide samples and potentially pay for the space or event where the sampling is taking place.

Dry sampling can be more cost-effective because the brand can produce and distribute the samples at a lower cost. It can also be more convenient for consumers because they can try the product on their own time and in their own environment.

Ensure Your Brand Stands Out from the Competition

In a crowded marketplace, providing complimentary product samples can help your brand differentiate itself and capture the attention of potential customers. This can be especially effective for new or niche brands trying to get a foothold in-store.

To make sure your sampling campaign stands out, create a unique brand activation that will attract potential customers’ attention (at times this approach has been dubbed “retail theater”). Tactics can include creating interactive displays or partnering with influencers to create buzz around your product.

Beyond standing out in crowded aisles, sampling can help you connect with your customers on a much deeper level by providing a tangible experience with your product. When someone tries your product, they have a first-hand experience with it, and this can create a strong emotional connection with your brand. This connection can lead to increased customer loyalty and advocacy, as customers are more likely to recommend your product to their friends and family.

Believe in Sampling to Drive Retail Sales? Do it Yourself

Hear the term “sampling” and you might instantly think of grocery brands tendering cheese on cocktail sticks to passersby or offering a nip of new fruit cider to send shoppers on their merry way through the store. But sampling works far beyond the sceptered aisles of the supermarket, as work we did with B&Q and a DIY brand proves.

Megaron is a Polish company that produces a range of construction and DIY products. It stocks a number of products in UK B&Q stores. The objective of our campaign was to support the promotion of its products at these outlets.

The campaign saw us place 20 brand ambassadors across a month, fully trained by Megaron to help them understand the product offering, how best to sell the product and how to report on the interactions they had with customers.

Once in the stores our team became the people delivering training. They worked to train B&Q staff on the products and how to sell the products to trade and end customers.

During the month of promotion, we saw great engagement from B&Q in-store customers, engaging with more than 8,000 people. We sold more than 700 products and trained over 200 of the retailer’s staff, meaning they could continue to sell Megaron products effectively without brand ambassadors being present.

Sampling is a smart marketing strategy for brands looking to grow their customer base and increase brand loyalty in retail. Get your products into the hands of potential customers and let them experience the value first-hand. Not only will this give you valuable insights into your target audience, but it will also set you apart from the competition, help you connect with customers on a personal level and allow you to reach specific audiences. After all, a brand in the hand is worth two on the shelf.


Martin Rothwell, Client Relations Lead at GottaBe! Marketing, is passionate about data-driven marketing, understanding what makes consumers behave in the way they do and delivering campaigns for brands that just work! His background in marketing and specialism in digital marketing comes from both a love of data and consumer insights. He believes strongly in the importance of well-thought-out, planned and measurable marketing campaigns that are effective against their objectives.

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