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Anatomy of an e-Sampling Program
As well as in-store sampling, grocery retailers can make use of online sampling, like the programs provided by Carol Stream, Ill.-based StartSampling. These programs, according to CEO Larry Burns, typically involve HBC items, OTC medications, K-Cups and other products "that are immediately efficacious."
"It's all about the right place to experience the sampling effect," adds Burns, noting that SKUs such as laundry detergents, baking ingredients or, most obviously, adult bladder control products are best tried out at home.
A "small but successful" SmartSampling program to introduce a new K-Cup variety at a large Western grocer aimed to drive customers into the store to purchase the product through an online media buy of banner ads seen only by people living in close proximity to the retailer's stores. Of those geotargeted consumers, those who clicked on the banners had their names and addresses captured and received free samples of the product in either a single-serve K-Cup or a pouch of ground coffee, both items co-branded by Kraft Foods' Gevalia and the retailer. Additionally, the packaging for the samples included a coupon to spur purchase of the item.
The tightly targeted six-week campaign was judged a success by its opt-in rate, which topped 50 percent. "Quite literally, half of the [participating] folks reported purchasing" the product after receiving their samples, explains Burns, who concedes that this type of "hypertargeting" is easier to do online than in stores.
Be that as it may, a certain amount of targeting can be useful at store level, he says, giving as an example the dissemination of advance "inside info" to loyal customers on sampling event dates and times, to give them "the opportunity to feel special" as part of the grocer's mission to "surprise and delight" its shoppers, or, perhaps, to prevent too many people from showing up and having the staff run out of product as a result. "Targeted invitation notification enhances the potential value of a sampling experience," observes Burns, who further observes that having a great item to sample is a plus. "The fastest way to kill a bad product is to sample it," he quips.
Dawn of Sampling
"With our customers, we've found that the most successful sampling programs are either daypart programs, event/holiday programs or new product programs," asserts Sue Wright, key accounts manager at Jackson, Mich.-based Dawn Food Products, which works with retailers to showcase its range of in-store bakery items.
As well as noting that "doughnuts in the morning to capture that breakfast impulse purchase for the office, or bread in the late afternoon to encourage consumers to take home bread for their family dinner," are big winners with consumers, Wright counsels that even though sampling in conjunction with an event or holiday "seems like a no-brainer… timing and inventory [are] key here. If you're sampling immediately before an event or holiday, make sure you have plenty of inventory on hand to encourage last-minute purchase. If you're interested in driving orders, be sure to sample far enough in advance to entice shoppers and give them enough time to get their orders in." As for new products, Wright, citing company research, points to "trendsetter" shoppers who "want to try the latest and greatest, and introduce it to their friends and family."
According to Wright, although sampling can work for all types of grocers, certain conditions apply. "You have to plan for staffing for the sampling program, and you have to know your shoppers, how they shop, the experience they are used to, and like," she notes. "Some stores are able to hire additional temporary staff to run sampling programs, while others utilize their own staff. Operators need to plan out how they will staff sampling, and how this will affect the rest of their operations. Knowing your customers, how they shop and what they like will help you make wise decisions about what kind of products to sample, at what time of day, etc. It's possible to customize a sampling program to the unique needs of your store and your shoppers in order to maximize effectiveness."
When it comes to preparing in advance for a retail sampling event, Wright offers the following advice:
- Ensure the product for sampling is fresh and looks great. "Unfortunately, there are times when samples become an opportunity to get rid of product that is close to expiration. This will not lead to sales growth or loyalty among shoppers."
- Create a sampling story. "If you were a customer and you tried this product, what would you say when you go running back to your husband/wife/parent/friends to convince them to purchase [it]? Write down your reaction. If you have the capability and budget, pass out a small card with each sample that communicates the name of the product and three key bullet points, in your own words."
- Properly prepare your staff. "Choose eager, excited and passionate staff to help with sampling, and encourage them to show their personality and engage with customers." Wright recommends giving staffers your prepared talking points, but then letting them put their own spin on them, as that way they "are more likely to feel ownership over the success of the program." She also reminds grocers "to instruct staff on how to best serve the product –- don't just assume they know" how to do it.
- Choose your sampling location wisely. "Plan for your demo to take place near where the product is located in your store –- you want to encourage shoppers to enjoy their sample and purchase, not walk away and forget."
- Ensure there’s enough –- and extra -- inventory. "Consider the overall experience you want your shoppers to have. Providing the best overall experience for your customers leaves them with a positive memory … and presenting product samples well can draw shoppers in from other parts of the store." Wright suggests "color-coordinated napkins, plates and utensils [to] create a more positive experience," along with "a wastebasket close by for shoppers to dispose of these items."
- Remember to stay clean. "The need to keep your sample station clean is something that is often forgotten in preparation for sampling. Inevitably, something will spill, and there will be crumbs. You want to make sure the last person who receives a sample has the same positive experience as the first person who sampled, so keeping paper towels or other cleaning items handy is a must."
These guidelines have helped Dawn's retail partners achieve spectacular success. "Our customers have definitely found sampling to be profitable," says Wright. "One customer in particular that operates a formal sampling program expects and prepares for a 20 percent lift during the sampling event!"