Sampling’s Future Potential

Mike Tarquinio provides tips on translating the in-store experience online.

By Mike Tarquinio

One of the best things about shopping for cosmetics in a department or specialty store is the samples. Many stores give away tiny lipsticks, creams and perfumes with each purchase.

The benefit is two-fold: increased customer connection because they like receiving something free and possibly increased product purchases per customer.

With almost 90% of consumers shopping online, brands are facing the challenge of translating the in-store experience online, including sampling. It’s crucial to strategically create excitement for online shoppers by giving away samples while balancing the requirements and limitations of shopping cart and content management technology. Companies who will best achieve that balance in 2013 will do so in the following areas:

Product Launches and Promotions
Most major cosmetic and retail brands have their new product launches and promotional schedules on the calendar far in advance. This should absolutely be integrated into the online sampling plan.

The best brands will be able to make simple changes to their shopping carts to ensure that a free sample of the new or promoted product is automatically included with every purchase during the intended time period. This must also be integrated into the inventory system though to ensure that samples are distributed on pace, including adding extras to orders near the end of the promotion, or are replaced with an alternative.

Personalized Sampling
In a retail setting, a long-term customer service representative can get to know some customers and what they like, providing samples just for them. The good news is that eCommerce solutions can make this possible for all customers without needing to rely on memory.

Customer profiles should track past purchases and purchasing behaviors and generate custom sampling selections at checkout. There is significant opportunity to create a lot of excitement around the customer experience by making customers feel known and special. Ideally, they can be encouraged to provide feedback on the samples, receive personalized email and direct mail marketing, and be identified and engaged as brand ambassadors via social media.

Loyalty Programs
People love getting something for what they perceive is nothing. With the right technology in place, sampling could become the basis of a loyalty and customer acquisition program. For instance, customers can earn samples by setting up automatic purchases, reviewing products, sharing socially, or attending in-store events.

Additionally, they can send samples to friends through the website, giving them a reason to visit regularly and also introducing potential new customer to the brand. This “gamification” of sampling has potential far beyond the obvious benefits but requires thoughtful technology selection and integration.

Sampling is a tried and true cosmetic marketing tactic that has been around for decades and has the potential to make an even bigger impact in the future. By exploring these areas and implementing technology to support them, brands will see how they can get a lot more for what they give away for free.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Tarquinio, is vice president of operations at Double Prime. He has more than 10 years of project management experience and has spent 14 years in the Internet and e-commerce space.
Mike has been a project manager for many high-profile websites and e-commerce projects. He has also worked on projects for Musician’s Friend, M&M Mars Drinks, Burberry, Levis, Palm, Maurices, Spanx, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bath & Body Works, Ace Hardware and many more.

For tips on how to make the sourcing of packaging materials more efficient, see Four “What Ifs” for 2013: New Horizons in E-Sourcing by Brett Cornell of CombineNet.