What is the long-term impact of product sampling and demos?

What is the long-term impact of in-store demos

In-store marketing activities are like Transformers: there’s more to them than meets the eye.

Sampling and demo activity is effective at changing customer buying behaviour in the moment. We know people are 25-30% more likely to pick up and purchase on the day if they’ve had a chance to try before they buy. 

But what about afterwards? Where’s the real value? What does in-store marketing do for sales and customer/brand relationships in the long term?

Changing consumer buying habits

According to the Event Marketing Institute’s 2015 survey, 65% of customers will purchase a product or service promoted at an event. When asked why they made the purchase, 78% responded that they were happy they had the chance to try it first. 

Meanwhile, a study by research consultants Arbitron and Edison found that 35% of customers who try a sample will buy that same sample on their shopping trip, and 24% of people will actually replace existing items on their shopping list with the sampled product.

In-store product sampling has a long-term payoff too, providing a sustained boost to sales of the product on display and the category as a whole. And while you might expect repeated sampling events for the same product to offer diminishing returns, they actually have a multiplying impact – the sales keep on improving.

It works by disrupting customers from ‘shopping on autopilot’ by following routine purchasing habits, and then following up with routine reinforcement until they’ve formed a new habit around the product. That was the point of Sainsbury’s ‘Try Something New’ campaign – an attempt to grow sales by putting an extra £1.14 in every shopping basket. The marketing team did this by encouraging people to add one or two additional items to their basket every week – like buying nutmeg to add to Bolognese sauce for the first week of the campaign (which saw sales jump from 1400 to 6000 jars within seven days). And that was just a TV campaign: imagine the potential impact of letting people taste the difference.

Costco demos offer an additional edge in this regard. In many contexts, interrupting people while they’re shopping could actually put them off – but in-store demos are ingrained in the culture of Costco. In-store marketing is embraced fully by Costco members, who spend more time in store than the average supermarket shopper, and who expect in-store product demos and samples. It’s part of a positive experience for them, meaning they’re more receptive and more likely to buy.

Building brand awareness

In-store has an impact on the bottom line, but it’s also part of the brand. An in-store experience can draw people’s attention to the new, establishing a product and its identity in the minds of its customer base. They’re not just seeing a poster, but actually experiencing the brand in the flesh.

Once a brand is established, it’s easier to introduce new products. Nielsen’s New Product Innovation Survey found that 59% of customers prefer to buy new products from a familiar brand; 21% have purchased a new product purely because it was from a brand they like. 

Beyond that immediate boost, brand awareness also boosts receptiveness to other marketing: customers who’ve had first-hand experiences with a brand are 89% more likely to mention that brand and 303% more likely to recall advertising. Even if they don’t buy on the spot, an in-store demo will make customers remember you in the long term.

That’s the power of brand awareness, built through consistent, regular exposure to the same messages over and over again. Those messages are conveyed through the qualities of the product itself, of course, but also by its surroundings and its people. It’s one thing to offer people a free sample of gin; another to build a stylish ‘sipping station’ like Sipsmith’s, staffed by ‘mixologists’ who prepare your sample on the spot.

The right brand ambassador – a people person who can adapt to a product and brand, internalising what they’re about and communicating it to the customer – makes all the difference. Their role is to be completely at home with the product, comfortable with it and capable of telling the customer everything they want to know.

In-store demos have a proven, demonstrable effect on sales in the short term; that’s why they’re built into Costco’s very being. But in the longer term, customers who’ve had a chance to try before they buy will keep buying, their purchase habits reshaping around repeated positive experiences with the product, brand and demo table. Since the demo lingers in the long-term memory, it can even induce customers to buy new products from the same brand sight unseen. The value of in-store marketing goes a lot further than an uptick in sales on the day.