In-store demos have been a grocery mainstay, but traditional demonstrations have not kept up with the demands of modern supermarkets, according to Gina Ashe, CEO of ThirdChannel, a technology company providing data analytics and insights for retail.
- Writing in Progressive Grocer, Ashe says that while demos can encourage consumers to try new products, drive sales and increase engagement, they are also expensive to stock and disruptive to employees.
Ashe suggests grocers make their demos more attractive with flashy signage and more sophisticated setups. She also suggested having brand ambassadors conduct demos. These representatives can provide more education to the consumers and gather more data and other insights for the brands.
What’s the best way to get customers to try — and perhaps buy — and product? Give them a sample. That’s the idea behind in-store demos, whether it’s displaying a selection of sliced strawberries in the produce section, offering rolled turkey slices by the deli or passing out one-ounce samples of wine in the liquor aisle.
But do in-store giveaways actually work, Ashe asks?
In a word, yes, at least according to an article in The Atlantic that reviews Costco’s results in sampling. “When we compare it to other in-store mediums ... in-store product demonstration has the highest [sales] lift,” Giovanni DeMeo, vice president of global marketing with Interactions, a product demonstration company handles the club retailer’s in-store sampling, told the magazine. The company's in-store beer sampling translated to average category sales increase of 71% last year, while frozen pizza giveaways increased sales by 600%, DeMeo said.
But in-store demonstrations aren’t easy to pull off, Ashe notes. It can be expensive to stock products and staff, and sampling booths can interrupt the flow of business. “For all of the cost and hassle, old-school demos just aren’t that impressive: A tabletop with cheese puffs in Dixie cups doesn’t look like an engaging retail experience; it just looks like a snack break,” she wrote.
While the purpose of in-store sampling is to introduce shoppers to a product or brand, the process appeals to the customer on a psychological level. Customers who get a “free” sample may feel the psychological need for reciprocity to the store or brand, and show that by making the recommended purchase. The queue waiting for a toothpick tidbit means that the snack isn’t to be missed. And the increasing emphasis on tactile foods shows the importance of engaging customers’ senses and emotions in the demos.
When in-store demos are done well, they not only increase sales — they build loyalty to the brand and to the store. Take a look at Costco. Legendary for its samples, the retailer has elevated its in-store demo game in recent years. Club members wandering around on the weekend know they can dine off samples and never need to pay for lunch. More than eating “cheese puffs in a Dixie cup,” Costco sampling has become a planned activity for shoppers.
Other grocers could take a lesson from Costco’s in-store sampling approach, Ashe suggests. Use brand ambassadors who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the products to engage with customers and create memorable connections. Invest in flashier displays that make the demo an event that educates and entertains. Have brand ambassadors collect data so those insights can be used to improve the process.
In-store sampling helps brick and mortar retailers differentiate themselves from e-commerce competitors. It will be interesting to see if grocers make the most of this advantage with a more targeted and progressive approach to demos.