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How 11 Brands Use an E-commerce Sampling Strategy To Grow Their Business

Michael Waters
July 31, 2022
Will offering free samples to customers actually get more people to buy products? Read more.

One of the easiest ways to recruit new customers is to offer free samples. Unlike other digital marketing tactics—like email marketing, relevant content marketing campaigns, and search engine optimization (SEO)—it gets your products directly in front of people.

It's also a great way of gathering customer reviews about your new product's user experience, and possibly enticing them to buy. In the beauty industry, for instance, samples are the third-biggest driver of product purchases.

However, Sampling as an E-commerce Marketing Strategy Can Be Difficult

This is the case for e-commerce-only brands. While retailers like Costco and Trader Joe’s have brick-and-mortar stores where they can present potential customers with samples, e-commerce brands don’t have the same luxury.

As a result, relatively few e-commerce companies currently offer free samples—but that’s a mistake. While free samples from e-commerce stores are still niche in the U.S., they've gained significant traction worldwide, especially in China.

There are low-cost ways to design an e-commerce marketing plan for sampling. Plus, plenty of products—like perfume or other scent-based products—are a tough sell online without high-quality samples available.

8 Ways Brands Can Create a Successful E-commerce Sampling Program

Here are some marketing tips for e-commerce businesses that are considering their own sampling programs:

1. Embed Samples Into Existing Orders

One of the most popular, low-cost approaches to free sampling is to add a sample to customer orders.

Sephora and Nespresso each have product pages for sampling on their e-commerce websites. Here, they encourage customers who are already placing an order with each brand to choose a free sample to append to their order.

The sports body care company bluerub, meanwhile, says it embeds a free sample of its most popular products with every shipment. No matter what you get from bluerub, the box that you open at home will come with a sample you didn’t expect to receive.

Bluerub said that this strategy has been key to boosting its conversion rates. The company said that 40% of its one-time customers have bought a product after first trying it as a sample, thus turning into repeat purchasers.

A Free Guide on How to Launch Ads on TikTok

2. Use Algorithms to Pick the Best Samples

An entire industry of startups has sprung up to help you curate free samples to offer your target audience. Companies like Brandshare and Sampler specialize in helping you map out which products you should use as free samples—and which orders to bundle them with.

3. Create a Custom Sampling Package

Fragrance brands are among the most likely to adopt an ecommerce sampling program, and that’s because describing a scent with words can only get them so far.

Because customers tend to try a bunch of scents before settling on one, many fragrance brands now curate sample packs that they send to customers. To ensure the sampling pack is as effective as possible, many tailor it to each customer.

Lucky Scent, for instance, chooses which scents to put into its Fragrance Fitting sample pack based on how customers answer a series of questions during the checkout process:

Marie Claire, meanwhile, has a Beauty Drawer sampling program that asks customers to fill out personal profiles about themselves and their tastes before sending them products to their door. 

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4. Partner With a Subscription Box

One of the most common ways that digital-only customers encounter free samples is through subscription box brands.

Subscription boxes like Birchbox and Glossybox regularly leave space for mini, sample-size versions of beauty products. Brands that bundle samples of their products into subscription boxes have found that the approach helps get their name out there.

5. Offer a Try-on Program

While sampling tends to make the most sense for companies with small, easy-to-use products—like beauty products or food products—even apparel and wearable brands have attempted to make the digital sampling concept their own.

Because ecommerce customers can’t try on products at stores, brands like Warby Parker offer home try-on programs to convince them to make a purchase. In Warby Parker’s case, the company ships customers as many as five glasses frames they’re contemplating buying.

You have 5 days to try them on and ship them back, with a prepaid label. This approach, however, probably only makes sense for higher-priced items like glasses, where brands can justify the cost of shipping several glasses to people’s homes.

6. Try Influencer Marketing

Sending a sampling of specific products to influencers could be a great way of widening your customer base. This social media marketing tactic can prove effective, especially if the influencer's following is composed of your target demographic.

Them posting glowing product testimonials on social media will surely boost your brand awareness, which isn't a bad incentive for sending an individual or two some free samples.  

See how fast-growing brands like Thinx optimized their social media strategy with Chatdesk.

7. Can’t Afford to Offer a Free Sample?

Many brands—especially smaller online stores—can’t justify the cost of mailing customers free samples, especially when the full-size product sits at the low end of the cost spectrum.

There’s another way: charge a small amount for a sample, and then offer to deduct that cost later if the customer decides to make a purchase.

The cosmetics brand Kosas, for instance, has a program called Kosas Try Outs in which customers can pay $3-$5 for a sample or $35 for a full at-home test kit.

Then, if they end up buying any of the products they try, Kosas will subtract the sample's cost from the final cost of the product. This ecommerce strategy is their way of ensuring that customers who order samples are truly keen on making a purchase.

8. Supplement Your Marketing Efforts With Responsive Customer Support

The best way to convert a customer who tries a sample of your product into a repeat purchaser is to ensure you have knowledgeable teams on-hand. These teams must be able to handle customer questions about shipping, returns, ingredients, sizes, and more.

Chatdesk Teams offers a flexible customer support team, made up of real fans of your products, who can guide someone who orders a sample online into making a purchase.

What's more, these Superfans can support your customers across your social media platforms and marketing channels. To see Chatdesk in action, schedule a demo.

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