Yash Bhatia

Sampling gets a digital makeover in the era of e-commerce

Here are a few new-age sampling techniques that marketers are using to push products into consumer’s shopping carts.

Remember the time when a product/sachet would pop out of the morning newspaper? This was how brands used to indulge in sampling. The purpose was to make the consumers aware of a new launch or boost the sales of an existing product. 

Sampling techniques have evolved with time. Rapid digitisation has led brands to follow newer and more innovative approaches. 

Cheerful promoters can now be seen at supermarkets/malls, holding a tray of free samples of their products. Brands are also increasingly sending their product samples through orders of food aggregators like Swiggy and Zomato, and q-commerce players like BlinkIt and Zepto.  E-commerce players like Myntra, have also started sending samples with their orders. 

How are brands making way for these changes?

"We do sampling for two main reasons. One is to generate trials for new products and the second is to create awareness about it,” says Amit Garg - AGM, marketing, healthcare OTC, Dabur India. 

Dixit Verma, senior VP - strategy & growth, Rage Coffee, elaborates that the new-age sampling techniques can be used for geographically unique target groups.

“In the q-commerce space, customer code sampling is done by us and other players. Through this, we can target customers who’re using competitor brands, or cities where our brand is looking to penetrate. We also approach customers who order coffee regularly, basis their order history.”

Sampling, which helps to reach out to the masses, works on the principle of reciprocity. For example, if someone has given you something for free, you’ll return it with a favour. 

This is what happens when a brand offers free samples. The customer is then obliged to return the favour in some way. For sampling to work effectively, Garg shares, it has to be coupled with advertising. 

“If a customer samples a product and the next day, he/she sees its ad on television, then the chances of monetisation become higher. Usually, customers 'turning' after sampling, remain in the 5-10% bracket. I believe it can be increased if a brand can engage with the customers during sampling,” he adds.

Sampling gets a digital makeover in the era of e-commerce

Verma states that the customer conversion is 3-5% after the sampling process. 

There are multiple tech-enabled product discovery platforms that have enabled brands to reach out to their consumers with sample size products. One of them is Smytten. 

The company partners with 1,000-plus brands across categories. Recently, it opened an experiential store in Noida. According to its co-founder Siddhartha Nangia, the top categories that dominate the sampling space include serums, derma-related products and fragrances.  

“An interesting trend that Smytten saw in the offline space, is that women prefer to use men’s fragrances, as they’re strong in nature. The makeup category is also where brands do sampling, followed by anything related to the health and wellness space.” 

Sampling gets a digital makeover in the era of e-commerce

Data collected by sampling: how it helps brands

Brands also partner with hypermarkets/supermarkets for the sampling process. This leads to some interaction with the customers, which can become a point to build a foundation of trust. In the offline space, the brand can get instant feedback that can help it to make its product offering more customer-friendly. 

Shankar Shinde, group chief commerce officer at VMLY&R INDIA, a marketing agency that helps in building brands, states, “It helps in market research - a brand can, for instance gather data on customer preferences, buying behaviour and demographics. It can also help in brand awareness.” 

Garg reveals that Dabur has done a direct sampling of almost a crore Hajmola sachets in a year. Recently, it distributed samples in Bikaner, Rajasthan. Dabur randomly asked some customers if they had purchased the product after using the sample. 

This kind of exercise helps the company to understand the repeat purchase behaviour of a particular product.

Sampling techniques: how it varies in metros and Tier-II cities 

The consumers in Tier-II/III markets rely on the recommendations of relatives, neighbours and friends. Word of mouth plays a significant role and, hence, sampling becomes crucial in these markets.

Verma mentions, “As a D2C brand, the Tier-II/III markets are significant for us. We’ve partnered with BigBasket to reach out to these markets. We also promote sampling in general stores/standalone stores. In Tier-II markets, malls can become a great place for product sampling.”

Sampling gets a digital makeover in the era of e-commerce

“Our strategy in the metros, is to partner with the likes of Swiggy, Bikanervala, Haldiram and Dabbawalas (in Mumbai). In smaller towns, we partner with the organisers of melas (fairs). We also do brand activations for this specific market, as well as cinema sampling,” Garg adds.  

When should a brand use sampling?

Shinde informs that the perfect time for brands to use sampling, depends on several factors, including the product type, target audience, market and budget. Brands should consider sampling when they’re in a product launch or growth phase of business or market/category development.

Sampling gets a digital makeover in the era of e-commerce

“I think for a brand like us, we can only build ourselves if people try our products. With a limited budget, a brand can’t spend extravagantly on marketing every month. I believe that once the product is fit for the market and you see enough traction in the market across channels, the sampling process should start. For our brand, we started sampling four years back with our SKUs, but not at a scalable level initially,” Verma states.

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