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Beverage Samples

Is Sampling (or Demonstrations) the Best Way to Drive Trial of a New Product?

POINT: John Moore

“Give, and you shall receive.” It’s an old and overused proverb. And for good reason… it works.

The more kindness we give others, the more kindness we receive. The more knowledge we share with others, the more knowledge we personally receive in return. The more generous we are, the more generously we profit.

This principle of generosity applies directly to sampling and to Starbucks. It can be argued the Starbucks business was built on sampling generously.

To find success during its high-growth years, Starbucks had to dramatically and demonstratively change people’s understanding of what coffee could (and should) taste like.

Back when Starbucks was a small company acting big, sampling of coffees and espresso drinks happened all day log. When you visited a Starbucks, chances were, there would be a taster-cup sample of a just-made drink ready for the tasting. Sampling became ingrained as part of the Starbucks business culture as the more customers tasted, the more they believed that coffee should taste just like that.

Tasting is more than believing at Starbucks, it’s also sales-driving. I remember an internal company study that revealed for every five beverages Starbucks sampled to customers, it triggered a purchase. That’s an impressive 20 percent conversion rate.

What other form of marketing has a 20% conversion rate? None come to mind.

It would be short-sighted of me to say sampling is the best way to drive sales of a new product. However, my experience at Starbucks tells me sampling is highly effective in creating awareness which leads to trial and can result in higher sales.

COUNTERPOINT: Paul Williams

What John doesn’t mention is that, back in the day, at Starbucks, he and I received an award for efforts to drive sales. It was a sampling-based idea.

That award was a result of our creation to help drive in-store sampling of new, promotional beverages.

Starbucks knows sampling works. As John mentions, 1 out of every 5 samples, turns into a purchase. Why do you think they sample in the aisles at Whole Foods Grocery and at Costco?

When in-store partners (employees) at Starbucks sampled a product, customers would buy it. But, the problem was baristas weren’t taking the time to sample. It takes someone out from behind the counter into the seating area, which takes labor away from making drinks. Store managers didn’t believe the statistic.

So, John and I made sampling a game. We did a mash-up of sampling and BINGO. We crafted a BINGO card, but instead of letters and numbers found on a traditional card, we replaced them with ways to sample.

Sample to a customer wearing sun glasses.
Sample to a customer visiting with a friend from out of town.
Sample to a customer who is celebrating their birthday this week.

When they completed a sampling task, they would mark that square off of their BINGO card. When they got 5 in a row, they had BINGO. Stores competed against each other. The morning crew competed against the closing crew. It was a fun task for everyone.

Some stores went to “blackout” their card – that is perform all 25 tasks on a card… For this they were entered to win an all-store prize.

Everyone loved it. Customers found it fun. Conversations started between customer and barista. Baristas did the chore of sampling because it no longer felt like a chore.

As a result, we saw a significant increase in new product trial and increase in average store sales. Overall company sales increased. Even more important, store managers saw sampling worked. They saw their store sales increase as a result and realized it was worth the effort to send someone into the seating area with a tray of drinks or featured food item.

Crackerjack Marketer

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