The sample things in life

Free samples are one of the most expensive ways of reaching a new market. Although they are also the most popular and effective method, can the expense be justified when other ways are nearly as effective – and cheaper?

Free samples and in-store tastings provide the most popular and influential route into new product purchase. But with trial sizes almost as effective, can manufacturers justify the high cost of free samples?

Exclusive research by NOP examined the role of free samples and in-store tastings, particularly in introducing consumers to new products or brands, or assessing products already on the market which were not part of their normal repertoire.

The majority of consumers – 72 per cent – found at least one type of media very helpful in finding out about new or different products.

Women – who tend to be responsible for more product selection – were more likely than men to appreciate media information; three-quarters of women, compared with two-thirds of men, found one or more medium helpful.

Age was a key factor in determining interest in new products, and in susceptibility to marketing tactics. The younger the consumer, the more likely to be receptive to advertising and promotional activity in general. Interest in experimentation waned sharply among the over-45s, causing them to be less interested in and influenced by marketing activity across the board.

Product samples were voted the most useful form of information about new or different products, ahead of press and TV advertising, direct mail and press editorial. Thirty-eight per cent of the UK adult population thought that free samples were very useful, and a similar percentage found them quite useful. This score places sampling just ahead of “browsing around the shops”, which was rated very useful by 35 per cent of adults, and quite useful by 42 per cent.

Television advertisements were the next most popular way of gaining information, with 28 per cent finding them very and 45 per cent quite useful. Press editorial is valued only slightly more highly than press advertisements; a fifth of consumers found each of these sources very useful, but 23 per cent of consumers found no use for editorial, compared with the 29 per cent who rejected press advertising.

Advertising, sampling and editorial are all rated useful by at least twice as many people as direct mail from manufacturers. Only one in ten adults found mailings very helpful, and they were dismissed as “not useful at all” by six out of ten consumers, throwing some doubt on the claimed success of relationship marketing for packaged goods products.

Fifty per cent of women – twice as many as men – found samples very useful, rising to six out of ten women with children under 15. This bias was more marked than for any other medium in the survey, and may reflect the feminine – or perhaps housewife products – which make up the majority distributed as free samples.

Participation in sampling

Eighty-four per cent of adults had experienced some form of free sampling or tasting in the past six months. Six out of ten people had received a sample “put through the door”, delivered by the Royal Mail or door-to-door distribution specialists, making it easily the most widespread form of sampling. Samples attached to another product, or to the front of a magazine or newspaper had both been received by just over a third of consumers, and another third had tasted a product in a shop or store.

Far fewer – 14 per cent – had been handed a sample “in a public place”; 12 per cent had rung up or sent off for one, either from a magazine promotion, or as a result of advertising such as the recent Elida Organics poster campaign.

Women are almost twice as likely as men to have received a sample through at least one method of distribution in the past six months; they formed the majority of recipients for all forms of sampling and tasting, with the exception of those “handed out in public”.

The under-25s are twice as likely as other age groups to have experienced this form of sampling, and are also the most likely to have received samples attached to magazines, newspapers, or other products.

Sampling effectiveness

Seven out of ten adults who had received a free sample or an in-store tasting bought a product as a result.

The success of sampling shows a similar demographic pattern to participation in the different types discussed previously. Men were far less prone than women to being influenced by a free sample; young people are twice as likely to have been swayed by sampling or tasting as the over-45s.

But a trial size product – which has to be paid for by the consumer, had triggered purchase for almost as many people as a completely free sample. The success of trial sizes ties in with the efficacy of investigative shopping – “browsing around the store” – giving people the opportunity to try the new brands they discover for a minimal outlay.

In-store tasting also has a major impact on sales; 82 per cent of people who took the opportunity to try products in this way had bought at least one as a result, perhaps showing the benefit of trial at the point of sale, rather than at home, which can be forgotten by the time the consumer gets to the store.

Tasting had a far more general influence than either free samples or trial sizes. The gap between men and women, old and young, almost disappears; even upmarket consumers, the most impervious to all the media, including free samples, are as likely to be swayed by tasting as the other social classes.

Product Categories

The majority – at least two-thirds – of recipients find samples useful in all product categories.

Fresh food or delicatessen was the most highly valued area for sampling – or tasting – three-quarters of consumers finding it useful, and four out of ten very useful. Samples of household cleaners and detergents were rated highly by 38 per cent, and toiletries and cosmetics by 36 per cent.

Nearly as many – 31 per cent – were strongly in favour of crisps and chocolate samples, and a quarter for packaged food.

Fresh food and indulgence products were the only two types of sample men and women found equally useful. Three-quarters of women took some interest in packaged food samples, compared with less than two-thirds of men.

The difference is even greater in detergents and toiletries; although the latter may again be partly attributable to the nature of the samples usually available.

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