10 tiny touches that make a big difference to sampling success

Sampling success

In-store sampling is a practice that has been utilised by brands for generations as a marketing channel that boasts a direct connection with the consumer. What more marketers need to grasp, however, is that the demos that lead to the best results are the ones that understand that the genius is in the details.

The details can be more obvious. Location, for example – choosing the right spot for your sampling table, and signage – making sure that your signage is clear and attractive – are obvious factors that need to be considered. However, there are even finer, less obvious details that many brands and marketers tend to ignore when putting together their own experiences.

To underline the importance of these often overlooked touches, we reached out to our own sampling expert, brand ambassador Mavis Robinson. Mavis has been working with WDS sampling at Costco stores for many years and has a unique window into the intricacies of sampling success.



One: Grab their attention.

With any sampling, the first thing you’ve got to do is grab the consumer’s attention – get them interested in what we’re trying to sell and get the right message across.

Grabbing the attention of a consumer will ultimately depend on the consumer, but there are ways to make your offering stand out. This could be anything from stand design and setting up in the customers’ path to the way you lay out your sampling table and the way you compose yourself in front of consumers – not to mention how the product is displayed and the language you use to sell it.

Two: Start a conversation.

Get people talking and start a conversation. You’re not just after the sale; you’re trying to introduce them to a new product that they might end up really falling in love with. We’ll often get customers telling us it’s too big for their freezer, for example, and I’ll tell them I live on my own with a small freezer but I open the pack and wrap them separately.

It’s far easier to sell a product when there’s some back and forth between the brand ambassador and the customer. It’s all about giving advice, finding some commonality with the consumer and turning every conversation into an opportunity.

Three: Have fun.

One of the best ways to grab their attention is to have a joke with them to get them to relax and over that initial barrier of reservation, so they don’t think we’re pushing anything on them like door-to-door salesmen. Because we’re not that at all. In fact, they’re coming to our door!

Humour is a wonderful tool when it comes to drawing people in, but it has to be perfectly judged. Banter is fine, but you don’t want to go overboard and take the focus away from the customer and the product. Be approachable and relaxed and it will lead to a more comfortable consumer experience.

Four: Use products that work together.

With dual demos, you have to make sure that the products complement one another. There’s nothing worse than trying to sell two things that don’t belong together. Putting a strongly flavoured food with another strongly flavoured food, for example, is pointless – you’re just cancelling out the flavour.

Dual demos are a powerful tool for demonstrating product versatility. However, it’s vital that you get the pairings right, otherwise, it might lead to situations where the consumers are put off by one or the other. Strawberries and cream, are a classic pairing, but cheese and Tabasco – not so much.

Five: Softly, softly.

Don’t be pushy! Whilst we will occasionally put the product on a tray and step out in front of our tables, it’s not our style to be aggressive.

If your demonstration is like a sideshow and is being actively disruptive, it’s doubtful that a company such as Costco would have you back. ‘Soft’ selling allows you to develop a deeper connection with the customer and can be much more effective than more aggressive ‘hard’ tactics. A HubSpot Research survey found that 61% of buyers said their experience would be more positive if sellers were less pushy – so don’t push; promote.

Six: Focus on what the customer needs.

Sometimes the briefs can feel as if they’re focusing on the sales rather than the product itself. But the focus should always be on the product and what it has to offer the consumer.

For each Costco sampling project, a brief will need to be written up that dictates how the brand ambassador should be displaying and promoting the product. When writing up these briefs, it’s important to remember that consumer focus is the bread and butter of all sampling experiences. This means focusing on each consumer’s needs – being able to anticipate their desires and what they want or could stand to benefit from thanks to the product.

Seven: Mix it up.

Overexposure leads to indifference. If you keep sending the same samples out every week then the samplers are going to get sick of it and it’s going to start looking desperate to the consumers.

There is little value in pushing a product that obviously isn’t selling. Instead of trying to flog a dead horse, consider a different approach to the product – maybe pair it with something else or change the way you’re marketing it. Or cut your losses and move on to something else.

Eight: Inspire their desire.

Give customers ideas about other ways they can serve the product; give it a little more dimension. It isn’t just something you stick in the oven and warm up. You could add it to something else or use it as an accompaniment, for example.

We’re working within a warehouse environment selling large quantities, so if you can provide more inventive ideas about how they can use the product with other products, then you’ll likely sell more. By painting a picture of how the product can be used rather than just asking someone to try it, you’re building the brand and engaging consumers, who will have a better shopper experience as a result.

Nine: know your audience.

Know your product and who to sell to. Vegetarian produce isn’t currently attracting as much attention as the sweets, so when we’re tasked with selling something that leans more into the health market, it’s important to know how much fat and how much sugar is in it. Focusing on health benefits is an important message, and shows you empathise with customers’ concerns.

A sampling brief often consists of just the product name, the vendor, the sample size and the main selling points. It’s up to the marketers to make these briefs more comprehensive and it’s up to brand ambassadors to use all of the information available to them to their advantage.

Ten: Consider other issues.

Serving with greaseproof paper and a cocktail stick goes down much better with the public than polystyrene cups and plastic cutlery. You can even lean into that and use it as a conversation starter, establishing the brand as a green and responsible company.

Millennial consumers are particularly focused on green issues (73% of Millennials are willing to spend more on ‘sustainable’ products), so this is a potentially powerful angle to push. It’s also something that will only gain traction in years to come, so is certainly a detail to look out for.


Secrets to sampling success

Sampling is not only a direct way to get your product into consumers’ hands but also puts the focus squarely on the product. Making your sampling experience stand out, however, means a greater focus on the little things that turn a sample into a purchase.

At Costco alone, there are often dozens of sampling events taking place at any given time, so when we put together a sampling experience, we always try to focus on the finer details to really make it sing and convert curious consumers. Ultimately, it comes down to attention to detail and making sure your focus is on the consumer – not the sale. Everything else is just window dressing.


Found this article interesting? For more insight into best sampling practices from those that practise them, meet our WDS brand ambassadors.