I’ve witnessed firsthand shoppers’ pure joy as they embraced the return of sampling."

Sampling is back — in a powerful, stirring way.

After pandemic-related safety concerns caused retailers to put physical product sampling and in-store demonstrations on extended hiatus, grocery, mass and club store operators are bringing these beloved in-store events back and customers are reveling in their return.

As I’ve toured our retail partners’ stores, I’ve been filled with pride, gratitude and an even greater appreciation for brick-and-mortar customer experiences, not just as a marketing tool, but as a much-loved — and for so many months, much missed — part of the shopping experience.

It’s been amazing to watch the progression of sampling’s return as we moved from showcasing products behind plexiglass shields to inviting shoppers to try prepackaged samples to serving fresh samples to lines of eager customers. Now, in every store I visit, I see shoppers, retail associates and our Advantage associates excited to connect with each other through these very familiar experiences. I’ve witnessed firsthand shoppers’ pure joy as they embraced the return of sampling and their readiness to buy the products they’ve just tried.

My personal experiences were recently validated by an Ad Age-Harris Poll. Nearly half (49%) of the U.S. adults surveyed in June 2021 said it’s “a good idea” for stores to reintroduce in-store samples and 65% said they’d partake in in-store sampling as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted (that’s higher than the 62% who said they participated before the pandemic).

The public is eagerly embracing the return of sampling for a few reasons. First, new protocols protect shoppers, retail associates and our associates and make shoppers feel comfortable to engage. Second, there’s a very high interest in making human connections again among all of us. Third, people love to try new things, especially when there’s no cost and no risk!

Brands and retailers are eager too, for good reason. More than two-thirds the Ad Age-Harris Poll respondents said they’re more likely to buy a product after sampling it in a store (31% said they’re more likely and 37% said they’re somewhat more likely). Nearly nine in 10 (86%) reported they’ve purchased an item after sampling it in the past.

Our own Advantage Customer Experience approach to relaunching one-on-one experiences has been shaped by the pandemic and remains incredibly dynamic as no two regions are experiencing the same conditions. Through this evolutionary window of time in our industry, we’ve we added new ways for brands and retailers to surprise and delight their customers, wherever and however they shop, including sample bags distributed to click-and-collect customers at curbside pickup and video demos delivered at a cart in a store or to a shopper’s personal mobile device.

Now, guided by vaccination rates and a general easing of fear throughout our society, top retailers are ramping up their return of in-store sampling. Thousands of Advantage Customer Experience associates are back at work, shaping experiences and offering samples.

It’s become clear one-on-one sampling experiences are an iconic part of the shopping experience. The return of sampling has been covered by local and national news outlets and heralded by late night talk show hosts.

Whether consumers’ enthusiasm for the return to live cooking and sampling events is a simple reflex in response to the months-long lack of retail experiential activity or something much more remains to be seen. What’s undeniable is our relaunch of one-to-one experiences has led to lifts in key metrics, including dollar and unit sales.

From my privileged vantage point with the global leader in brick-and-mortar sampling and demonstrations, I’m optimistic about the widespread resumption of this effective marketing tactic and more convinced than ever it will remain a key driver of customer engagement in stores, across every channel.

Andrea Young
President, Customer Experience
Advantage Solutions

Andrea Young directs the vision and strategy for CDS, Costco’s preferred partner for product demonstrations and sampling, and Advantage’s Customer Experience business at Kroger.

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