3 Rules Online Retailers Should Follow for Successful Product Sampling

By Doug Guyer

Special to the eTail Blog

E-commerce is in a state of exponential growth and as more and more consumers turn to the Web to make purchases, retailers are looking back to their roots to try age-old methods that worked before the days of online retail. Product sampling is a traditional marketing technique that’s been around since the start of the consumer/vendor relationship. Think of a free toy in a cereal box, a taste of special cheese at a wine store, a coupon from a grocery store visit. These are all familiar techniques. Today, product sampling holds more opportunities than ever before, and online retailers, as well as e-commerce companies have a chance to leverage product sampling to their benefit.

Online retailers like BeyondTheRack.com, HauteLook.com and many others are now able to offer sampling models easier, by working with third-party e-commerce companies who provide customers with customized, targeted free gifts with purchase. Through such product sampling campaigns, online retailers can increase customer loyalty and encourage repeat purchases.

At the end of the day, consumers are more likely to share a positive experience with peers, both offline and online, and offering a free gift in their order is one way to encourage that.

In order to run a successful product sampling campaign, online retailers should follow the following three simple rules:

1. Know your audience

Product sampling is not new, but the ways in which retailers can know their audience and target them are. Too many times consumers get product samples that are too small to be useful, or are completely irrelevant to their needs and desires. Personalization matters and single-handedly has the power to increase customer retention while spurring word-of-mouth marketing efforts.

2. Choose the right partner

As an online retailer, if you choose to include product samples, you should make sure to work with a company that understands your customer base and products. Any product insert, sample or free gift should remain consistent with your company’s identity and enhance the customer experience. Samples build brand value and encourage return purchasers when they are viewed as relevant and valuable. Otherwise,they are no different from spam email.

3. Measure, measure, measure

Product samples have traditionally been used mainly to blanket the market with new offerings, with little or no post-campaign measurement of how effective they were in driving consumer behavior. Online retailers who include samples in delivered packages have tools to measure effectiveness in both building brand awareness and driving re-orders. Whether it’s social media monitoring, customer tracking or another measurement vehicle, e-retailers should ask for and review these campaign measurements to prove ROI.

Product sampling may have looked inefficient a few years ago, but today, online retailers have the ability to offer samples consumers regard as meaningful and welcoming, not random and unsolicited.

Doug Guyer is Co-founder of IDR Marketing Partners, which connects pure-play online retailers with top brands.