Why product sampling is key for brands and retailers in 2021

Instore sampling during a pandemic

We know that many brands and retailers will still be feeling the impact of COVID-19. However, we’re working to ensure that now restrictions are easing, the second half of 2021 is going to be amazing. We believe that now demos are starting to return again, they deliver a solution to several challenges facing brands during the pandemic. Read on to discover how product demos and consumer behaviour are more closely linked than ever.

We laid the groundwork last year: starting with reintroducing demos in Costco in Reykjavik in June. 

In August, we were able to bring these protocols to the UK with a trial at Costco’s Watford warehouse. The success of this ensured a return to product demonstrations across all of the retailer’s UK warehouses. Since then, we’ve hosted incredibly successful demos for Hotel Chocolat and Black & Decker. We’ve also had incredibly positive feedback from Costco, our own brand ambassadors, vendors and Costco members alike. 



Challenge 1: Spending changes

Image of WDS brand ambassador working to overcome changes in consumer behaviour.

Our in-store product sampling include numerous measures to ensure we are Covid secure for the safety of our brand ambassadors and consumers.

Furlough and job losses – as well as struggles for many small business not able to open – have meant that funds, for many, are tighter than ever. In retail terms, this means that purse strings are being tightened. Consumers tend to stick to the essentials: possibly avoiding buying treats, or feeling reluctant to try new brands or products. 

But that doesn’t mean that shoppers will only buy the essentials. While many people may be more reluctant to spend, they’re still human and therefore, curious. They may have seen a new product on social media or had a friend mention it to them. And they’re intrigued. If they then see this product being demonstrated and get a chance to try it for themselves, it could increase their likelihood to buy. 

When our demos returned after the first lockdown, the results showed that reduced consumer spending doesn’t necessarily mean an unwillingness to spend. While we aren’t able to sample as many people as before, as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, we do have more time to spend with each customer. This has resulted in conversion rates that are incredibly high. People need to make choices: and we can show them what products are available, what makes them great, and the reasons why they should buy them. 


Challenge 2: Dormant buying habits

In-store perfume demo in action - product demos and changes in buyer behaviour

Product demonstrations can help to remind consumers of purchasing habits that have fallen dormant during the pandemic.

As a result of the pandemic and multiple lockdowns, we have seen plenty of shifts in buying behaviours. To begin with the media was been awash with stories of people stocking up on toilet paper, dried pasta, tinned foods and more. However, as the pandemic took hold we started to notice that certain categories had seen a significant decline in sales. 

Research by Nielsen for The Grocer reveals that the ten fastest-falling categories in 2020 were:

  1. Cosmetics (-£182.8m)
  2. Bottled water (-£148.5m)
  3. Chilled ready meals (-£74.2m)
  4. Juices & smoothies (-£50.2m)
  5. Gum (-£48.3m)
  6. Deodorant (-£47.1m)
  7. Hair styling (-£37.5m)
  8. Cereal bars (-£36.1m)
  9. Sugar confectionery (-£29.8m)
  10. Toothbrushes (-£28.5m)


For some of these, it is easy to see why buying habits have changed. With consumers spending less time out and about – whether for work or leisure – some of these categories will inevitably witness lower levels of spend. The challenge for the brands within these categories is to trigger these dormant buying habits now that life is beginning to return to normal. 

The solution? Reminding people of these products and brands. Product demos let them sample for themselves and trigger those memories and desires to return to products and consumer behaviours that they may forgotten. When products like these aren’t being promoted, they will remain at the back of consumers’ minds. When they are being promoted with the opportunity to see, smell taste and touch, it can reignite thoughts about purchasing. 


Challenge 3: Fewer large-scale events

In-store sampling image - product demos and changes in buyer behaviour

In-store sampling provides a mini brand experience on a personal level; delivering conversion rates that are double those from before the pandemic.

Large-scale events such as conferences, festivals, trade shows and similar events are an integral part of the marketing mix for a huge number of brands. Whether it’s sponsorship, partnerships with another brand or an in-event sampling campaign, they’re a great way to get in front of large numbers of consumers at the same and make a big impact. 

  • Need help organising your next demo campaign? Get in touch

It is still likely to be a while before such events return in numbers, meaning that this marketing tactic will be on hold for most of 2021. However, this presents a window of opportunity for brands to get ahead of the competition by running sampling campaigns within COVID-19 guidelines. 

In-store product sampling and demos provide the same opportunities, but on a smaller scale – and with great conversion rates. At Costco, sampling is an enormous part of the member experience, helping to turn a regular shopping trip into a series of brand experiences.  And with lead times for getting an in-store campaigns up and running starting from just three weeks, it’s a good way to fill the experiential marketing void that many brands will be experiencing. 


2021: Still a great year for product demos and sampling

Pandemic or no pandemic – an ongoing demo programme is a key tool in the marketing toolkit of many brands. It’s a chance to collect first-hand customer feedback, promote your wider brand values, and has long-term value as well as creating short-term boosts in awareness and sales.

However, this year and last has presented new challenges to brands. A reduction in spend on “non-essential” products, a new dormancy in the use of certain categories, and the loss of other experiential marketing outlets. 

In-store product demos can help brands to negotiate changes in consumer behaviour that COVID-19 has caused. And with the amount of time before we return to some sort of complete normality still unknown, many brands – like Hotel Chocolat and Black & Decker, are seeing in-store activity as a great way to stay front of mind, change buying habits, and stay one step ahead of their competitors. 


If you’re looking to use product demos to embraces changes in consumer behaviour, get in touch to find out how we can help.

Our HUGE thanks to Frank Wainwright for his help in creating this article. A writer, publisher and awards scheme creator, Frank has lived his working life through experience and people. You can learn more about Frank here.