60 days of demos – Coming back from COVID
We might be back in another nationwide lockdown but rather than dwell on the negatives, we thought we would reflect on and showcase the exceptional work the WDS team have been up to in the last two months. It’s been around 60 days since demos were allowed to restart in Costco warehouses across the country, and while they might look a little different now, the feedback we’ve had has been astonishing.
Costco and their members have been overjoyed to see demos popping back up on the aisles and our team has done everything in their power to provide the same service they’re known for whilst keeping everyone safe. By working closely with Costco, we’ve been able to return product demos to the fore and as these are a major part of the Costco shopping experience, members have been delighted.
It wasn’t a move made lightly though. Indeed, the groundwork was laid months ago.
Sampling has been a part of the retail trade for decades now, particularly when it comes to groceries. The basics of the practice have remained unchanged since the early days, but in a post-coronavirus world, change is a necessity. That’s why we were determined to figure out how to change our product demos without losing what made them so special.
We decided to use Reykjavik as something of a proving ground, given that COVID-19 had taken less of a hold in Iceland. This gave us all of the information we needed to ensure that, when product demos were brought back to the UK in later weeks, proper safety and social distancing etiquette had already been tried and proven.
We started trialling our ‘new normal’ product demonstrations in Iceland back in June. With a relatively small COVID-19 outbreak, hospitality businesses were allowed to remain open and by June, with no cases in the country, live demos were allowed to be reinstated too. We then took what we had learned and applied it to a two-week trial in Costco’s Watford warehouse in the second week of August. This allowed us to conduct seven demos a day in a controlled environment while we tested, monitored and refined our new approach.
But what does that new approach look like?
A new approach to an age-old practice
The most important aspect of the new product demos is, of course, safety. The most obvious immediate visible changes are the introduction of clear acrylic ‘sneeze screens’ and PPE for all brand ambassadors, which are in the form of face masks, disposable aprons and disposable gloves that are changed regularly throughout the day. All units are also now equipped with hand sanitiser for both the brand ambassador and members, and the units themselves are also sanitised every 30 minutes.
Our first demos also underlined the importance of individually wrapped samples and one-to-one contact. Whereas in the days before COVID, you would typically have 10 or more samples on a tray that members could take themselves, we now limit our demos to one sample at a time to prevent potential contamination. These samples are served via a ‘serving hatch’ at the base of the acrylic screen in single-use, disposable containers.
Our brand ambassadors have also been fully trained with not only a health and safety refresher course but also training specific to dealing with COVID-19. They also have their temperatures checked every day and are asked to fill out health questionnaires to ensure they are not displaying any coronavirus symptoms. Add this to the social distancing measures being applied behind the scenes and an added focus on hygiene and cleaning and you’ll see that we’re more than ready to face the new normal safely and securely.
One final thing our trials in Reykjavik and Watford taught us was that, besides PPE and social distancing, signage was one of the most important safety aspects of the display. So, in recent weeks we’ve enhanced our demo stands to ensure all visual communications are as clear as possible in order to keep everyone safe.
The layout of the allergens sign has been improved with a larger, clearer font and stronger imagery. A large “sampling today” image is also now displayed on demos for products that can’t be displayed, such as frozen goods. This helps members to identify the product quickly and is yet another advancement in keeping product demos viable in these uncertain times. And finally, we’ve developed a sampling-specific social distancing notice to help remind customers of the importance of following the guidelines.
The last 60 days
October 30th marked exactly 60 days since product demonstrations returned to Costco and to say it’s been a busy six weeks would be an understatement. It might be far from ‘business as usual’ right now but in those 60 days, we were still able to achieve a great deal.
Demos – Even with the restrictions on the types of product we were able to safely demo, we completed over 7,500 demos. Not only did this mean we were able to bring all of our teams back to work but it also brought the familiar joy back to the Costco experience.
Conversion rates – The 19% conversion rate was almost double what it was pre-COVID, with many agreeing that the ‘one member at a time’ sampling allowed for a greater level of one-on-one interaction between brand ambassador and customer. The ‘new normal’ has been all about maximising returns under challenging circumstances and by spending more time with members, we’ve been able to make the best of a bad situation and find new ways to make the sampling experience feel more personal.
These results have only been possible thanks to the work of everyone involved and, with a little creativity, we were even able to celebrate Halloween with a team-wide pumpkin carving competition. It’s these kinds of ‘little things’ that make the product demo teams so beloved and so indispensable and we can’t wait to see what they’ll bring to the table for Christmas this year. Fingers crossed!
Together as one
With the second national lockdown in progress, national spirits are going to be shaken so our product demos have never been more vital. They offer a glimmer of hope and joy in the darkness and a little (quite literal) taste of the way things were and the way they will be again.
With Christmas just around the corner (we’ve never needed it more) there are thousands of incredible demos ready to delight Costco members for the next 60 days and beyond. As long as we move forwards together and continue to adapt, whatever the next two months have to throw at us we’ll be ready to face it.