D2C brands can drive trials of their products in the form of Rs 200-500 worth trial packs, subscription boxes, and purchase freebies.
In a pre-COVID world, it was perfectly normal to sample a new brand of chips at a supermarket or try on a dab of lotion at a personal care store. The pandemic, unfortunately, changed all that. On-ground activations, kiosks at malls and general trade stores - these were all avenues for brands to hand out samples of their products to people.
Now, both D2C and heritage brands alike have taken their sampling processes online. When an order exceeds a certain amount, D2C brands like Plum, Sugar Cosmetics, Renee Cosmetics, Re-equil, DermaCo, etc., offer samples of their products.
There are also companies like Nua that offer the delivery of their products on a monthly subscription basis and companies like Lets Shave which allow for a free trial of the product before buying. In Nua's case, the products need to be frequently replaced and the subscription boxes can be customised according to the woman's requirements.
Rashmi Berry, founder and managing partner, BrandStory Consult (a strategic brand and marketing advisory), explains that companies conduct sampling activities for a host of reasons, including higher visibility at point of sale, customer feedback and to induce product trials.
Berry agrees that while COVID adversely impacted in-store sampling, it wasn’t very effective in the first place.
“Traditional in-store sampling is a critical component of a new brand launch in the food, beverage and beauty sector. However, it has typically delivered low ROI due to the limited reach of organised retail, limited targeting scope, high wastage and limitations in measuring impact or completing the feedback loop back to the brand,” she says.
“Digital has opened many new avenues that are more cost effective, offer better targeting and give brands more control on the end to end consumer experience. Digital-first consumers are also more open to trying new brands. Going forward, digital will dominate sampling, whether through sampling specific apps like Smytten or subscription boxes as offered by Nykaa or e-commerce marketplaces,” adds Berry.
“Studies have shown that almost 40% of consumer intent to purchase is driven by product sampling and trials. Every brand understands the importance of sampling, but the process so far has been very inefficient. People have had difficulty finding scalable channels or a coherent and scientific way of going about doing it,” says Swagat Sarangi, co-founder of Smytten.
Smytten is a platform that allows users to sample products across categories. The customer has an option to create a box with samples of his/her choice. The categories range from hair care, home care, snacks, beverages, fragrances, skin care, and more.
Sarangi explains that the consumer’s basket - the products that they would consume on a regular basis, has suddenly expanded, and so has the number of brands they consume on a daily basis. He tells us, based on a dipstick study that they have conducted, that the basket’s expansion rate is at around 20%.
“There was never an established supply chain for product samples in the past and it was happening on a sporadic basis. Brands now work with companies like Smytten to allow consumers to sample a product even before it is launched. This process includes initial product testing, analysing consumer feedback, helping them launch in the market, etc.,” says Sarangi.
Ajeeta Bharadwaj, chief strategy officer at Wondrlab India, says that when it comes to beauty sampling, there is a much stronger resistance because direct, multiple-party contact is involved.
“I think this has the power to fundamentally change the whole in-store shopper experience for the beauty and personal care category. Earlier, the touch and feel aspect of in-store shopping played a big role in aiding discovery of new products, while the option to try it before you buy it provided the necessary safety net. This formed a key part of the shopper experience because it not only engaged the brain, but also the senses. Many people who shop offline, chose to do so over the more obvious advantages of online shopping, because of the immersive experience,” she explains.
Bharadwaj adds that there have been several experiments with augmented reality for beauty, colour cosmetics and accessories. Visual-led mediums like Instagram are being used to create a more immersive 3D experience for the shopper.
RSH Global’s Joy Cosmetics conducted a sampling activity with food delivery aggregator Swiggy in 2021. Kolkata residents, who ordered dinner from Swiggy after 7:30 p.m. (after coming back home from work), were given a 15 ml sample of Joy Cosmetics’ Skin Fruits face wash. A total of 96,252 units were distributed.
Poulomi Roy, chief marketing officer, RSH Global, says that the decision to deliver the face wash in the evening was made from a data point of view.
“We observed that there are two occasions in a day to use face wash - in the morning during bath and in the evening when people come home from work, The category was growing at 8-9%, but we wanted to increase volume usage in the category. That’s why we reinforced the need to wash your face after work by delivering it along with the person’s dinner order,” explains Roy.
Roy recalls that roughly 8-10 years ago, during the festive season, newspapers and magazines like Griha Shobha would often give out small samples of products to its subscribers.
“However, with these sampling activities, there was some spillage. We would be reliant on the vendors to keep the samples inside the newspapers or magazines. Sometimes, they would take out the products and sell it themselves. That’s when we had to include a print on the newspaper or magazine mentioning that there would be a sample given along with this edition,” says Roy.
Bharadwaj points out that another big upcoming trend in sampling is related to influencers. Joy Cosmetics routinely does this to create interest in the products among users.
“Going ahead, we will see a lot of focus going on creating a far more immersive, interactive unboxing of new products, in order to mirror a sampling experience for the followers. This will also continue to bring a lot of focus on nano and micro influencers, along with bigger beauty influencers,” says Bharadwaj.
Mojobox founder Amrita Kumar explains that one of the biggest changes that has happened to sampling, especially online, is that algorithms are in place to digitally target consumers. “This is very different from standing in the store aisle and handing out samples to a random shopper, who may or may not match your target audience.”
RSH Global's Roy admits that the company has not yet made its foray into subscription boxes like Smytten. “To participate in this type of sampling, we have to manufacture smaller sizes of the product and the moulds in the factory have to be different to facilitate this too. Many days, it takes a lot of time and effort to construct these moulds. We work with influencers and give them sample gift boxes of our products so they can post about it online.”
Mojobox - another sampling service, is completing two years in September 2022. Founded by Kumar and Atul Nath, the service has around three lakh registered users and the company has sent out over 2.8 lakh subscription boxes so far.
There are two types of boxes that the company offers - curated boxes that are offered to customers based on behavioural targeting (with a specific target audience in mind). Then there is a ‘make your own’ box option, which allows users to select the specific samples that they want in their boxes.
Some product categories - like hygiene - need repeated sampling. “There are brands that do full sized product sampling, instead of mini samples because the belief is that a consumer needs to use a product multiple times in order to be able to finally convert,” says Kumar.
She opines that sampling is inherently important - irrespective of whether you’re a D2C brand or a legacy brand. "With the explosion of new companies, discovery is a challenge for D2C brands. There is a clutter of ads on social media and sampling becomes all the more important.”
Kumar also talks about sampling playing a role in brand rediscovery. If a person has forgotten about a brand they’ve used in the past, a sample is a good way to remind them.
Nath says that sampling also helps consumers to make a decision about which products to buy and which ones may work for them.