Something for Nothing? Free Samples and Grocery Marketing
Free Samples: One of the Best Grocery Store Marketing Strategies
Grocers and other retailers have been marketing to customers through free samples for generations. But how do you know if it’s the right move for your store? Will sampling generate revenue or is it just another expense without results?
We examine this retail marketing strategy in detail to determine what the benefits are on both the retailer and customer sides, as well as research into what makes this practice effective.
Why Customers Like Free Samples
Aside from the obvious draw of free food, samples give grocery shoppers the perk of learning about and experiencing a product before a purchase.
This is especially appreciated for families with limited budgets, who may be interested in trying new items but not keen to spend money on something they don’t know for sure they’ll enjoy.
Sampling is also a way for customers to feel involved with decisions retailers make. Today’s shoppers like feeling as if their input matters and that marketers are listening to their opinions.
Asking for feedback along with free samples is a great way to make customers part of the team.
Free Samples Can Improve Your Grocery Business
Providing food items, no matter how small, with no strings attached promotes trust between you and your customer. Establishing that positive relationship goes a long way to creating loyalty.
A recent grocery industry study conducted by Brigham Young University researchers and colleagues found that “sampling has both an immediate effect and a sustained impact on sales.”1 The researchers demonstrated that, compared to endcap displays, free sample offers showed more immediate results and continued to generate more sales for several weeks longer.
Why Sampling Works in Grocery Marketing
The concept of reciprocity is a “very, very strong instinct,"2 according to Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely. In an interview for The Atlantic, Ariely explains that even the smallest free sample can create a strong urge to return the favor, which in the case of grocery samples, means making a purchase.
Ariely also describes the way small samples of an item can awaken forgotten cravings. By tasting the sample, the customer’s desire for the product is stimulated and increased, making them more likely to buy it.
Researchers Heilman et al. published a 2011 study with findings that free samples were very effective: “For consumers who are planning to buy the product in the promoted category, free sampling can encourage switching from the planned to the promoted brand. For consumers who do not have such previous plans, free sampling can ‘draw’ them into the category and encourage category purchase."3
Which Items Should You Choose to Offer as Free Samples?
With all the evidence pointing to the effectiveness of sampling, how do you decide which products to give away? Think in terms of what is easy both to produce and to divide into visually appealing bite-size samples. Products should have low food costs to prevent loss.
Try these types of foods when developing your sampling strategy:
- New and/or surprising food items: Use samples to introduce customers to new additions to your store.
- Underperforming products: Draw attention to items that go unnoticed to determine if it’s lack of marketing or lack of interest in the product before discontinuing.
- Your store brand: If your brand can compete with name brands but is less expensive, get it in front of consumers who might ordinarily reach for national names out of habit.
- Sweet shop items: Gourmet popcorn and fudge are two examples of sweet shop products that can be irresistible to shoppers. Especially if you keep equipment operating with enticing aromas, foods like these can be great revenue generators as free samples.
- Salty snacks and dairy: Flavored pretzels or pita chips can draw customers away from a planned snack purchase to a higher-value one. And a taste of delicious cheese can easily prompt an impulse purchase.
Looking for more grocery industry resources? Check out these ideas for increasing your summer sales, and how a sweet shop setup can help improve your store.