Someone recently asked me why we like to sample so many products at the Heart of Iowa Market Place.
The reason, I replied, is because sampling works.
Sampling works because it provides a unique and fun experience for customers, which is what retail is supposed to be all about. It works because it educates the consumer about your products. It works because it moves products. And, it works because it produces results on the bottom line of your balance sheet.
I hadn't realized how powerful sampling is until we started offering samples of our homemade fudge. Hardly anyone who comes into my store is thinking they want fudge when they walk through the door … until they taste the fudge. Everyone likes it. And when they come back, they're eagerly expecting a fudge sample.
The first time they come, it's a happy surprise. But it quickly becomes part of the Heart of Iowa experience for returning customers. Sometimes, they come in specifically for a fudge sample. And I'm absolutely thrilled when they do.
We did a little test not too long ago. We'd been sampling a sausage meat. We had a lot more of a second variety in stock and I said, "We should sample that one instead."
Right away, the second brand started selling because people could taste it. Everybody wins in that situation.
Sampling is all around us, and yet it is often an underutilized sales tool by many small retailers. Book stores know that you bring in authors for readings and book signings. Lowe's and Home Depot have courses to show you how to build things. Other retailers can and should learn from those examples.
Often, your vendors will provide you with free samples. (I'll get into that the next time I write.)
But today is a great day to be thinking about what you can do to engage your customers, give them a unique experience and encourage them to come back. Product sampling should be at the top of your ideas list.
Why? Because sampling works.