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Tactics Watch - Sampling

Just a Taste

June 15, 2012
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To help promote trial and awareness of their private labels, more and more retailers are turning to in-store sampling.

Stores looking to promote their private label brands are finding that sampling programs can help to prompt trial and awareness, differentiating one’s store brands from national brands—and one’s store from the competition.

“Today, people see private label differently,” says Jeff Weidauer, vice president of marketing and strategy at Little Rock, Ark.-based Vestcom. “They see it as a viable alternative to national brands. Consumers are more willing to stick with the private label. The opportunity for in-store demoing is more around premium products—things that are going to differentiate you from the guy across the street.”

“I tell retailers, ‘Think like a brand, act like a retailer,’” says Richard George, chair and professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, who recommends looking at sampling as an investment. “How are they going to know your brand until you get them to try it out? Sampling is the way.”

George counsels sampling when a retailer has a new private label product or one that’s difficult to describe—or when they’re trying to highlight a taste comparison with a branded product. ‘That’s a way to differentiate their whole store,” he says.

“Not just for their particular product—not just, this is great strawberry jam—but this is how this store differentiates itself. It’s marketing, it’s not sales; it’s not how much jam did they sell, but how many people think this is a better place to shop?”

WHERE IS BEST?

Weidauer advises placing sampling stations near high-traffic areas and near as possible to where the product sits on the shelf—but without disrupting the flow of shopping carts. Sometimes that means finding a consistent spot that’s not right next to the product, which can be impractical.

“If something’s halfway down aisle 10, you can’t put your display there,” he says. “Most people don’t shop up and down the aisles. You want to be on the perimeter, almost by definition.”

Common courtesy prompts shoppers to move past sampling stations if they’re in a cluttered spot, George says. “People need to be able to sample and have a conversation.”

HIGHER TRAFFIC, BUT NOT PEAK

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer on when to set up sampling stations, although Weidauer figures most stores have their peak traffic on evenings and weekends. “Some stores might get traffic in the morning, or on a Monday,” he says. “You need to be aware and flexible enough to segment the store.”

Stores should take advantage of busy holiday periods without overdoing it, Weidauer says. “You want to catch holiday traffic, but you don’t want to be an impediment,” he says. “You don’t want to have a lot of demos the day before Thanksgiving. That’s going to annoy shoppers. They know what they want, and they want to get in and get out.”

Similarly, George says that Saturday morning might not be the best idea, since it’s a crunch time, but stores do need to find a busy period—or maybe create one. “Make Wednesday private label sampling day, and make it special. It might be a slow day [ordinarily], but market it,” he says. “I always believed you fish where the fish are.”

CREATE AN EVENT

To catch those fish, George urges retailers to focus on the fact that sampling is theater. “Most [retailers] try to do this themselves. It doesn’t work,” he says. “You can’t put a plastic tablecloth over a card table and put out crackers … It definitely has to look as good as your produce and flowers.”

Sampling also can be an opportunity for cross-merchandising of private label products, George adds. “Suppose you were sampling an in-store bakery that has nice artisan bread,” he says. “You want anything that reinforces combination purchases. That’s where Smucker’s loses out—they’re putting it on Ritz crackers. Stores can put it on their own crackers.”

Weidauer says stores need to keep focused on trial and awareness of new products. “Absolutely you want to be doing an in-store taste test, so people think about this differently than a [traditional] private label brand,” he says. But even for value-tier products, “It makes sense to demonstrate that the product is as good as a national brand for a cheaper price.” 

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