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To many, product sampling is literally just giving out free samples of your product. In the hopes that maybe the consumer will buy it later, subscribe, or become a loyalty member. But no — it’s so, so much more than that.

Product sampling marketing is actually one of the most effective ways of collecting authentic content and increasing conversions on your e-commerce site, social pages, and beyond. It’s time you learned how (and why) to utilize this marketing juggernaut yourself.

Chapters:

  1. What is product sampling?
  2. When should you launch a product sampling campaign?
  3. Why you should launch a product sampling campaign
  4. How to succeed at product sampling
  5. Your turn to sample

Picture this: You’re walking through the store, your stomach is growling, and you’re looking for the perfect thing to eat. Then, out of nowhere, a person shouts, “Free samples!” and hands you a hot bite of pizza just oozing with melted mozzarella cheese. And hey, it’s dinner time… you want more! Add to cart.

Now, replace that pizza with anything else — wine, ice cream, a handheld vacuum. Once customers try it, they’re more likely to talk about it, buy it, and share it. That’s why, despite the costs, product sampling marketing is one of the most effective tactics a business can employ.

What is product sampling?

Product sampling is the practice of offering goods or services to your audience in exchange for increased brand awareness, brand loyalty, reviews, feedback, and other revenue-boosting user-generated content (UGC). This is a form of experiential marketing because consumers are able to completely absorb and engage with the product prior to buying it.

Quick history lesson: Product sampling is a tried-and-true marketing strategy dating back to the 1850s. Benjamin T. Babbitt, a soap manufacturer, was one of the first people to hand out samples to his fan base. As time passed, the power of this marketing strategy was realized by others, and has since become popular in a variety of different industries.

Today, there’s several different product sampling methods:

  • Traditional sampling means giving away free product samples to customers, so they will feel more confident buying the product.
  • Cashback sampling is when customers buy a product in a store or online with a provided coupon, or receive money back after uploading the receipt.
  • Sampler packs include small or trial-size products. If the customer likes the sample, they are more likely to buy the product at full size.
  • Mail drops are when you mail free samples directly to customers’ homes.
  • Limited time samples are free only for a specific amount of time, such as three days, a week, etc. This adds excitement and plays to the psychological fear of missing out (FOMO).
  • Virtual sampling is when consumers are able to try out a product online without visiting a store or receiving something in the mail. This type of product sampling campaign relies on technology like an app or artificial intelligence.

When should you launch a product sampling campaign?

You should launch a product sampling campaign when you need to boost word of mouth or get feedback on a new product.

  • You have a high-quality, effective product ready for people to test. It’s important to make sure you’re delivering something genuinely good before people’s opinions start flying. A bad product will be all the more maligned by product sampling.
  • Your budget can handle sampling costs. This includes the cost of the samples as well as shipping, handling, staffing, and marketing. Note: CashBack sampling alleviates a lot of this cost.
  • You need increased brand awareness for an existing product. If your brand isn’t well-known but you have a great product, you need positive word of mouth to increase brand awareness and fill your sales funnel. Just make sure expansion is feasible for you based on your current business model.
  • You have a new product to launch. Product sampling will help with product development, as well as create some additional buzz. People who sample your product and love it are more likely to buy it, tell their friends, and even create shareable content about it.

Why you should launch a product sampling campaign

Product sampling helps brands boost feedback, conversion rates, positive reviews, and social content for both small and enterprise brands alike.

Get valuable product feedback

Product sampling is also a way to connect with and get feedback from your audience.

According to Ryan Stewart, a marketing expert and the managing partner of WEBRIS, “We normally ask them questions about their experiences with our services, show how they use them, or even invite them to take part in an online contest that involves using our services.” This feedback can help you further develop the product into something your audience will love.

Boost sales and conversion rates

Sampling a product makes customers want to buy it. It’s wired into our psychology. Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University, knows samples create desire. “If I gave you a tiny bit of chocolate,” he says, “all of a sudden it would remind you about the exact taste of chocolate and would increase your craving.”

Take Costco, for example. An oft-cited study about Costco revealed the grocery store saw a significant boost in revenue thanks to its free food samples. And Stewart confirms sampling is a solid way to increase sales. He asserts, “People who feel like we value their opinions are more likely to buy from us when they need something similar in the future.”

Encourage positive reviews due to a sense of reciprocity

Free samples encourage potential customers to play into the idea of reciprocity. In other words, people who receive the sample want to do something for your brand in return — like posting a positive review on social media.

This by no means every review is going to be positive of course. Neither should that be expected. Product sampling isn’t “we’ll send you a product sample in return for a positive review.” By contrast, reviews should be honest regardless of the sentiment. And even negative reviews provide added authenticity for your brand.

But one of the reasons sampling does yield such positive results is because the right provider (like Bazaarvoice 👀) can create campaigns for a hyper-targeted audience, right down to age, gender, or even skin tone. When the recipient is the exact target audience the product is for, the review is much more likely to be positive.

“Product sampling allows us to get our audience involved in the creation of our content, which gives them a sense of ownership over what we’re sharing,” says Stewart.

For instance, after TTI Floor Care North America allowed top brand loyalists to sample Dirt Devil vacuum cleaners for free, they saw an 86% response rate and more than 700 reviews full of positive, authentic UGC. These reviews not only filled TTI’s own webpage but were also syndicated on major retailers’ sites. As a result, Dirt Devil product reviews went from 2.8 to 4.5 stars.

Supercharge your social content

You probably already know that social content is an important way to reach consumers. Combining the reach of social media with the effectiveness of product sampling gives you a unique marketing campaign powerhouse.

Most Bazaarvoice Sampling customers are e-commerce managers who use sampling to create and feature content on social media.

“Linking sampling to social is a core tenant of any e-commerce plan,” says Kerry Bridge, Global Director of Advocacy and Content Marketing at Bazaarvoice. “You need to be able to collect that great content from social in order to populate your product pages. Plus build your community.”

We’ve pinpointed four different reasons why social content and sampling go hand-in-hand:

  1. New product launches benefit greatly from large amounts of recent UGC. 89% of shoppers check reviews before making a purchase, and 60% of shoppers feel more comfortable making a purchase if they can see product images or videos first. A great way to collect this valuable UGC is to employ product sampling.
  2. Product development is essential if you want to produce quality products, and product sampling can help you iron out the kinks. Bazaarvoice Sampling can make this even better by enabling you to customize, conceptualize, and receive actionable feedback from all of your product sampling campaigns.
  3. Core SKU support helps brands collect UGC on an ongoing basis. Collecting UGC isn’t a one-time-only event, especially since 55% of shoppers say they trust fewer recent reviews over (more) older reviews. Product sampling is a great way to remind loyal consumers what they love about your brand, draw in fresh eyes, and keep your product pages optimized.
  4. Entering new markets helps you expand your reach. Each demographic is different, and over 70% of shoppers are looking for perspectives that reflect their own. Product sampling can help you get your foot in the door and provide UGC that speaks to these new markets in a relatable way.

The sampling halo effect

We could talk up the benefits of sampling all day. But it’s numbers that hold the real persuasive power. We recently surveyed over 6,000 Influenster community members who have recently taken part in sampling campaigns. What effect did the campaign(s) have? Well, of the members we surveyed:

  • 63% purchased the product they sampled
    • 97% of whom purchased at least one additional product from the brand
  • 87% recommended the product/brand to friends and family
  • 50% said the product became a new favorite/staple in their life
  • 50% followed the brand on social media

How to succeed with product sampling campaigns

Ultimately, all product sampling campaigns help your potential customers get a preview of what you’re selling while helping you get more visibility for your product and brand overall. The individual strategies can take several different forms, from in-store food samples (Costco) or mailed glasses to try on (Warby Parker). The details depend on your business model and campaign goals.

Here’s seven examples from the masters that you can imitate when you craft your own campaign, including the relevant sampling program they used.

Costco nails the traditional sampling strategy with in-store snacks

Costco is famous for the traditional, in-store, free sample method. People have gone so far as to tour the sample tables at various Costco stores.

The more samples people try, the closer they get to a free lunch. Personal finance and food bloggers have picked up on this idea as well and have even written articles encouraging the practice.

Costco’s store sampling draws people to its stores, thanks to one key message: Going to Costco is fun (and yummy).

While you might be nervous about handing out “freebies,” the benefits far outweigh the costs. In fact, according to the College Marketing Group, “Interactions — the company that handles Costco’s sampling — found that their efforts led to a 71% increase in sales of beer and a 600% increase in frozen pizza.”

Traditional sampling works especially well for supermarkets like Costco, as well as other brick-and-mortar stores like makeup counters. Just remember that the goal for this type of sampling is to increase sales and positive word of mouth. You probably won’t get a lot of UGC out of it.

Ripple Street increases customer FOMO with limited-time samples

Limited-time samples are one of Ripple Street’s primary product sampling strategies.

Customers apply for various free sample offers through Ripple Street. Once selected for the offer, they receive the samples in the mail. After testing out the sample products, they write a review and provide feedback to the brand in question. Applications for these offers close after a certain amount of time, but new ones are always opening up.

For example, Baby BLUE Chewy Chatterbox dog and cat treats opened its sample application from May 5 to June 6.

product sampling marketing
Image source: Ripple Street

On June 7, 2022, the applicants were selected to sample the product. And from June 13 through July 4, 2022, the products were sent out and tested. As a result, samplers gave positive product reviews.

product sampling
Image source: Ripple Street

More reviews lower risk aversion. When you give current customers, influencers, and brand ambassadors something exciting to take home to their friends and family (and even their pets!), you subsequently draw in these new, potential customers.

Offering samples that are only available for a limited time also helps brands build their email list because fans want to be alerted about new deals. So you can direct them to an email subscription form where they can give their information in exchange for access to news about special offers (like free samples).


Take advantage of Bazaarvoice’s Social Scheduler to publish offers at the exact time you want your fans to see them — and sign up.


L’Oréal gets personal with virtual sampling

Since its target market is focused primarily on beauty, personalization and creativity are everything for L’Oréal. That’s why L’Oréal’s special offers and promotions are tailored to this demographic’s specific preferences and needs in the form of virtual sampling.

Image source: L’Oréal

Customers simply select a product like hair dye or blush. Once they grant L’Oréal access to their camera, a small window shows them what they would look like wearing that product. It’s kind of like Zoom + the Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap Visualizer. But instead of paint, it’s a beauty product.

Virtual sampling is attractive because it’s incredibly scalable, not to mention germ-free. Brands aren’t limited by physical space in stores or the cost of making or shipping the product. Instead, consumers are able to instantly get a good idea of what the product would be like for them without the hassle of applying the sample color to their wrist (eww), applying to a program, handing over their personal info, or potentially wasting a product if they don’t like it.

This technique is also sometimes more helpful and realistic than physical store samples because the tool takes into account different product combinations and how they affect each other. For example, if I dyed my hair bright red, would that red lipstick look good? Hmm… maybe a more subtle shade would be better.


Brands can use virtual try-ons to fill their social media calendars. If you have a tool like this, inspire your customers to post a photo of themselves on social media “trying on” your product. Then collect, store, and track that content using Bazaarvoice’s AI-powered Media Library.


Warby Parker masters the mail drop

Warby Parker prides itself on its choice selection when it comes to new, stylish, and comfortable eyeglass frames. It provides a quiz to help customers determine exactly what type of frames will best suit them and then a personalized selection based on their responses.

After completing the quiz, customers can choose up to five frames that are delivered right to their homes, where they can test them for five days. After finding that perfect pair, customers can buy what they want and ship the rest back. The return shipping is free with Warby Parker’s return label.

Image source: Warby Parker

For something you have to wear all the time (like glasses), comfort and style are paramount. Warby Parker helps customers feel assured that both needs will be met because customers can literally see the results for themselves at home before buying.


For brands that want a turnkey sampler program, Bazaarvoice offers a white-labeled sampling program to help retailers get their product samples directly into the hands of their community and start generating UGC.


Neuro optimizes product development

Sampling isn’t just to market and sell existing products. Kent Yoshimura and Ryan Chen, co-founders of wellness company Neuro, explain in this podcast one of the key ways they achieved their success: making sure Neuro Gum was as perfect as possible before they jumped into product activation. They gave out free samples of the gum to family, friends, and co-workers to test a variety of key details such as:

  • Different ingredients (20 milligrams of caffeine to 80 milligrams of caffeine)
  • New flavors
  • Different sweeteners
  • Hard chews vs. soft chews

After perfecting the product, Yoshimura and Chen surpassed their crowdfunding goal in just three days and ended up selling over 12 million pieces of Neuro Gum. And those people who sample the product became loyal customers.

“Once we introduce that product to somebody, the repeat purchase rate can be up to about 40, 45%,” said Chen. “Our challenge is getting people to try the product. Sampling is a really big opportunity for us.”

Neuro ensured it had a good, high-quality product and an active community of fans, thanks to product sampling. According to Chen, “We’ve grown such a loyal group of customers that they give us feedback all the time. It’s built a community which has been inspiring for us and has given us the motivation to keep going.”

After their initial success, they continued sampling with specific cohorts like the CrossFit community. They’ve also shipped product samples to new distributors to explore a potential new market in Africa.

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Image source: LinkedIn

Using samples and collecting customer responses is the most effective way to get meaningful feedback about your product, so you can improve it and launch with confidence.


Bazaarvoice’s sampling programs can help you learn from sampler feedback and expand into new markets via our robust, global Influenster community.


Kosas motivates more sales with CashBack Sampling

Kosas offers a cost-effective product sampling method in the form of cashback sampling. This means customers buy samples in exchange for store credit.

product sampling
Image source: Kosas

This strategy helps drive sales because it functions like a coupon for the customer. With every sample they purchase, they get cashback in the form of a credit bonus for any future purchases. This way, the customer gets to test a given product (which helps to avoid needless waste if they decide they don’t like it) while also making them feel like they’ve won something. It’s an incentive-driven approach that encourages customers to buy.

Cashback sampling is best for products that are difficult or expensive to ship, like alcohol or bulky items. It’s also more eco-friendly because it reduces packaging materials and emissions from shipping.


Bazaarvoice offers a solution to help brands with CashBack Sampling, including an app to help with opt-ins and redemptions.


Home Depot doubles conversion rates with Managed Sampling

Home Depot Canada wanted to increase the volume of UGC, particularly reviews, its brands get on its product pages. So it partnered with bazaarvoice to create the Home Depot Seeds Sampling program.

“UGC is becoming increasingly important. It’s no longer a ‘nice to have.’ It’s a necessity. We see our site as a research tool, so even if people come into the store, they still use their phones to see ratings and reviews and make a final decision. UGC is important for the health of the whole business, not just e-commerce.”

Gabriela da Silva, Senior Brand Advocate Analyst, Home Depot Canada

Seeds Sampling is a review-seeding program that puts a brand’s highest priority products into the hands of its shoppers, in exchange for honest reviews on HomeDepot.ca. Since the program’s inception, it’s already led to some brands doubling their conversion rates on HomeDepot.ca.

It’s not just legacy products either. WiZ, a brand featured on HomeDepot.ca, used Seeds Sampling to generate buzz for new products and earn that UGC before they’d even launched. 

It worked, too. The conversion rate for the products used in Seeds Sampling was 68% higher than products not part of the program. Not bad at all.


Home Depot isn’t the first retailer to turn to Bazaarvoice for a Managed Sampling program. We’ve built sampling programs for Walmart, Target, and Sam’sClub, to name a few. And you could be next.


Your turn to sample product sampling

Now that you know about product sampling, you’re ready to start implementing these product sampling marketing strategies in your own business.

Bazaarvoice makes it even easier by helping you get products into the hands of hyper-targeted customers through the mail or in-store. Then you can benefit from the increased reviews and UGC, which you can use to further develop the product, market it on social media, and boost sales.

You can learn more about sampling here. Or get in touch below to see how Bazaarvoice can help you get started.

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