Here’s Why Your Warehouse Club is Giving Out Free Samples

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Costco boosts sales and store loyalty by giving away food samples.

How many times have you left Costco hungry? Probably not many, if you’re like the vast number of Costco customers who find themselves grazing on Costco’s free samples. Not surprisingly, those food samples are good for more than your hungry belly.

The Atlantic reports that offering free samples can boost both store sales and brand and store loyalty.

“When we compare it to other in-store mediums … in-store product demonstration has the highest [sales] lift,” said Giovanni DeMeo of Interactions, the product demonstration company that handles Costco’s samples.

The increase in products’ sales can be impressive. DeMeo cited Interactions’ beer samples leading to an average sales surge of 71 percent at many national retailers, and its frozen pizza samples helped increase sales by 600 percent.

The Atlantic said free food samples can make consumers feel obligated to buy something.

“Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct,” says Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University. “If somebody does something for you” — such as giving you a quarter of a ravioli on a piece of wax paper — “you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.”

Ariely adds that free samples can make forgotten cravings become more salient. “What samples do is they give you a particular desire for something,” he says. “If I gave you a tiny bit of chocolate, all of a sudden it would remind you about the exact taste of chocolate and would increase your craving.”

According to The Atlantic, a 2011 study published in the British Food Journal found that “Samplers with a heightened awareness of the presence of others at the sampling station may feel a level of social ‘pressure’ to make a post-sample purchase.” So the workers at the sample table serve an important purpose. If the table had samples and no attendant, consumers would find it easier to walk away without purchasing the sampled product.

I’ve personally enjoyed a number of free samples at Costco that have led to me purchasing the sampled item, usually an item that was nowhere on my shopping list. Free samples do add to the shopping experience at Costco.

Have you found yourself purchasing items after you’ve received a free sample of them? Do you shop at stores, other than Costco, that offer free samples? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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