How to Use Free Samples to Sell More at Your Store

How to Use Free Samples to Sell More at Your Store

A whopping 75 percent of shoppers are influenced to buy something by getting a free sample, according to a recent Alliance Data (NYSE:ADS) report. (If you’re a Costco shopper, think about how often a yummy free sample has persuaded you to buy some new food product.) Why do free samples work so well, and how can you use them to sell more stuff at your retail store? Here’s what you should know.

Why Free Samples Work

Giving away something for free makes customers feel more positively toward your brand. Providing free samples at a store can also create a more festive atmosphere. Customers have to engage with you, your employees and other customers to get the samples, and talking about them builds a human connection.

Finally, guilt is at play. Customers who have just accepted a free sample from you and agreed that they like it may feel obligated to make a purchase since you’re standing right there.

Who Can Free Samples Work For?

Obviously, stores that sell foods and beverages are naturals for free samples, as are stores selling cosmetics, skincare or hair-care products. However, with a little thought, the tactic can work for just about any retailer. For example, a store that sells music equipment could give away guitar picks. A shoe store could give away samples of a new leather cleaner or buffing cloths. Anything small that customers are likely to buy again and again is a good candidate for sampling.

Setting Up Sampling

You can use a couple of different approaches for giving away free samples.

  • Set up a sampling station in the store and hand out free samples to customers to taste, try, smell, etc. Provide plenty of information about the product, including a full-size product on display and any other relevant details. Don’t put the price right up front. You want to get your customers ready to buy before you let them know how much it costs. Otherwise, price may deter some people from even trying the sample.
  • For more valuable samples, get customers to give you something of value in exchange. For instance, suppose you’re sampling an upscale skincare product. Customers probably won’t decide to buy on the strength of testing it on their hand in the store, but they might if you give them a sample-sized jar to take home and use for 2 weeks. Offer this type of sample to customers who sign up for your email marketing messages or join your loyalty program. That way, you can continue to market to them even if they don’t buy today.
  • Offer a free sample with purchase. Cosmetics companies are geniuses at this strategy. If a customer buys something at or above a certain price point, put a free sample in their bag at checkout. You can use different types of samples at different price points to spur customers to buy more, offering more valuable samples the more they spend. Or you can use free samples to encourage purchasing certain products that you’re trying to move. For example, if your store sells kitchen supplies and you want to get some of your baking gear off the shelves to make more room for summer grilling tools, try offering a package of gourmet cookie mix to anyone who buys baking utensils.

How to Use Free Samples to Sell More

How can you get the best results from your free sampling program?

  • Know what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you want to move a particular line of products, let customers know about a new product you’re selling, get more people to sign up for your email list or just get more people into your store that day? Without a goal, you won’t be able to tell if your free sampling program works.
  • Let people know about it. For a small-scale free sampling, putting signs in your store window or giving out samples right outside the entrance is probably all you need. If you’re planning a more costly sampling program, such as giving away more valuable samples with purchases, let your customers know about it through email marketing, social media or text message marketing.
  • Hype the limited-time aspect. “While supplies last” is a powerful motivator. There’s something about the human brain that is wired to act fast when we know something we want might run out soon. Text message marketing or social media marketing are great ways to exploit this “get it now” mindset. “We’re giving away free samples worth $25 with any purchase of $40 or more today from 1-5 p.m. only!”
  • Measure results. When each free sampling program ends, carefully track what you got out of it. For example, if you wanted to get more people in your store on a normally slow afternoon, how many customers came in? How many people who tried the free sample bought the product on the spot? By monitoring the outcome, you’ll be able to tell if free sampling is worth your while and what it works best for at your business.

Cocktail Samples Photo via Shutterstock

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.