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Free gifts offered with online orders

Some companies are using free samples to drive sales of impulse merchandise and new products.
Debby Garbato
sambucol gummy sample pack

Some companies are using free samples to drive sales of impulse merchandise and new products. Samples are included in online orders.

A contactless alternative to in-store sampling, digital samples can be sent to specific consumers or distributed randomly. A third option lets digital shoppers choose from a list of free samples at checkout.

Stefanie Kruse, vice president of digital commerce and omnichannel at Walgreens, said the retailer has used contactless sampling in beauty and other categories. “It can be effective at driving supply and delight, particularly when you’re introducing something.”

Lauren Picasso, founder and CEO of Cure Hydration, said contactless sampling generates higher ROI than in-store sampling. “We must pay demonstrators hourly in stores. Demos are more work and expense relative to how many people you’re getting in front of.”

Cure Hydration launched its electrolyte beverage mix at Walmart and other major retailers in March 2020 at the pandemic’s height. Since Cure Hydration is a start-up, Picasso needed to get products into consumers’ hands. “For us, sampling is the leading conversion driver,” she said. People want to taste it and see if it works. It’s different if you’re an established brand adding flavors.”

Whether sampling is general or targeted “depends on the supplier’s objective, although targeted drives more efficient returns,” Kruse said.

Picasso used random sampling and also offered samples during targeted, pre-sale events for supplement-related categories. Samples came with a flyer and QR code. Scanning the code added the item to shoppers’ next online order. Sampling was backed by Google and Facebook ads in corresponding geographic areas. 

Another supplier, Pharmacare, used random sampling at Walmart to promote its Sambucol Black Elderberry supplements. General Mills, Quantum Health, Coca-Cola and Old El Paso Taco Seasoning have also done online sampling with various retailers.

online sales cooking

Retailers’ online cooking shows heat up digital sales

H-E-B, Albertsons and Walmart are using online cooking forums to entertain consumers while introducing them to recipes and products they might be unfamiliar with or do not know how to use. Consumers can purchase items from events just by clicking.

Digital forums attract new shoppers. Since consumers can post comments and interact, they create a sense of engagement and community that mimics physical shopping. Content is available on retailers’ e-commerce sites and, in some cases, via Facebook and other social media platforms, attracting additional shoppers.

“H-E-B is using live shopping to make it easy for customers to see, learn more about and use products,” said Giovanna Dimperio, senior director of digital marketing. “Live shopping is a great way to introduce items whose benefits customers wouldn’t see walking past the shelf.” Purchasing occurs during and, in some cases, long after events, she said.

The concept was introduced in July 2021 with a live grilling event. Chef-endorsed offerings include fresh food, shelf-stable CPG items and other products. Items discussed use pop-ups displayed in the screen’s bottom corner. Chefs are online influencers.

H-E-B was the first grocer to leverage Facebook’s new shoppable livestream; it also runs events on YouTube. Dimperio said chefs and topics attract viewers. “We often take viewer suggestions,” she said.

In fall 2020, Walmart launched Walmart Cookshop. The free, interactive video hub provides custom content from celebrity chefs and hosts like Jamie Oliver, Sofia Vergara and Patti LaBelle. During each episode, viewers can buy ingredients for pickup or delivery. Videos are powered by Eko Interactive Technology, enabling consumers to control ingredients, flavors and outcomes viewed.

In September 2021, Albertsons partnered with technology provider Firework to deploy shoppable content and cooking experiences across its various banners’ websites. “This is about bringing delight and inspiration to digital shopping to make online experiences as fun as discovering new products in our stores,” said Chris Rupp, chief customer and digital officer.

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