“The sales are getting better and better”: BA Alison Carley on the return to product demos

Alison Carley has been involved in product demonstrations for 20 years. First working for WDS in our previous incarnation as Power Girls, she then moved to Asda to run in-store demonstrations for the supermarket chain. Seven years ago, she returned to the WDS family, working as a brand ambassador in Costco’s Thurrock warehouse. In all the time she has been working in the sector, she’s never experienced anything quite like COVID-19. So, how has she found the return to product demos, after a pandemic-enforced break? 

“I was so pleased to get back”, she says. “It was getting ridiculous just sitting indoors, waiting for news!” But things weren’t as she expected when she returned. 

“When we first returned to demos, things were very, very quiet – it was hard to reengage with members after we’d been gone for a while”, says Alison. “Members were a bit reluctant at first, but now things are nearly back to normal”. 

Alison speculates that it could well have been the emptiness of the demo stands and their changed format that made members reluctant to approach – as well, of course, as the fact that they were still getting used to rules around masks and social distancing at the start. Now, though, she describes the demo environment as approaching normality – despite the changes that have been put in place. 

Embracing a “new normal”

All of the brand ambassadors we have spoken to for our interview series on our blog have agreed that members are really pleased that they’re back, and Alison agrees. “It’s what Costco is well-known for, it’s one of the reasons why Costco’s membership is strong,” she says. “They obviously want us to start doing the cooking demos again, but they’re all pretty positive – they’re all telling us they’re glad we’re back!”

Since Alison and her fellow brand ambassadors have been back in the Costco warehouses with brand new procedures and processes, members appear to have adapted to the new normal. “They’re coming up to me without prompting now,” she says. “At first, with nothing on the demo stands (because stands need to be kept spotlessly clean and touchpoints need to be minimised), they’d assume we’d run out – but now they know that if there’s one person sampling, there will be something there for them too.” 

While members are used to walking round Costco, enjoying their samples as they shop, that’s currently not possible. Our brand ambassadors need to explain that they have to consume their sample at the table, and to place their disposable cup straight in the bin afterwards. “Most are fine with it”, says Alison, “you just need to make sure you get it across in the right way. It’s not about telling them ‘you need to do this’, it’s about being nice – ‘hi guys, would you mind, that would be great.’” 

The process may have changed, with the PPE, the regular sanitising, the changed demo stand, the way in which samples are served – “but I don’t think the sales have really been affected,” Alison says. “I think they’re just getting better and better.” 

Party in the aisles

Even with cooking demos not set to return just yet, Alison and her Thurrock team have been demonstrating a wide range of products to Costco members. “Cheese, chocolates – they’re good this time of year – and the juices, too. Everything’s for Christmas for the members at the moment. Perfumes are going well too, as they’re better value than elsewhere.”

But it’s the alcohol demos that are the current stars of the show. “There’s loads of alcohol on at the moment, which is fab: they all want to try it, and they all want to buy it! I like doing those demos, and you find that because you’re doing something they really want to try, they’re more open and chatty with you.”

This is true to such an extent, says Alison, that there’s almost a party atmosphere in the aisles. “We’ve had Californian wines, we’ve had AU Vodka – and members have been buying a bottle of each variety!” she says. “It’s great when you have three of you demonstrating different alcoholic drinks in the same sort of area: once a member has finished at your stand, you point them in the direction of the next brand ambassador.”

Keep things normal

Alison’s top tip for other brand ambassadors is to remember that, despite the additional safety and hygiene measures that we have put in place, the role hasn’t really changed that much. And with that in mind – and with members’ increased acceptance of the situation – her advice is to keep doing the same as you always have. “Just do your job as normal,” she says. “Talk to members, try to encourage them over, and keep the whole experience as normal as possible for them. They understand that they can’t put their hands under the screen, they can’t stand behind us – they’re adapting and respecting the situation. Time and time again we’re told that demos are what makes the Costco experience such a positive one for them, so all we can do is keep that positivity flowing.”

Many thanks to Alison for making the time to talk to us. To find out more about how our demos can improve your brand awareness in sales – in the run-up to Christmas or beyond – get in touch.