Pat Curry was “giddy” when she saw a small-sized, wood-fired rotisserie chicken and portabella mushrooms at her Costco in June.
The 60-year old, who lives in Augusta Georgia, said that it was one of the indicators that showed that he had made a turn. “It’s the small things that you do that were taken away and now they are back.”
Retailers were concerned about the spread of the coronavirus when the pandemic was declared in February 2020. They therefore stopped free samples of food, makeup, and toys. Costco is now able to continue the tradition, despite the fact that COVID-19 is less likely in the United States and vaccinations are being given.
Customers love sampling because it makes shopping fun and allows them to discover new products. They’re essential tools for retailers to keep customers coming back and fight against online retailers like Amazon.
According to NPD Group Inc. (a market research firm), food sampling converts customers into buyers at a rate of 20% more than if they were not allowed to test the product. When beauty products are tested, the conversion rate is 30% better.
Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst, stated that sampling is crucial. 25% of retail sales are driven by impulse alone.
Jake Tavello is a senior vice-president at Stew Leonard’s. He said that promoting new products had been difficult without sampling them, a tradition started in 1969 by his grandfather, who founded the regional grocery chain. For example, sales of pink glow pineapple, a new item, were okay this spring but have tripled in the time since demonstrations were reintroduced.
Tavello stated that “when people taste it,” it is what makes them want to purchase it and choose what they will eat for dinner.
However, sampling is back but it isn’t clear if everyone is willing to eat. To address safety concerns, retailers have put in place various safety protocols.
Costco uses masked workers to prepare hot and cold samples behind plexiglass counters, and then distribute them one by one to their members. Stew Leonard’s also returned hot samples with the same safety precautions.
Walmart and Sam’s Club, its wholesale club division, are currently only offering pre-sealed samples of food. Sam’s Club limits the number of samples it offers on weekends. Target stated that staff food and beverage sampling had been suspended since March 2020, but it allows self-service sampling for individually wrapped items.
Retailers are more cautious when it comes to beauty testing. Ulta Beauty, a beauty chain, said that it is still trying to figure out how to bring back makeup testers. Target announced in May that it would resume beauty product sampling at its stores, where customers will be able to take home individually wrapped products. Kohl’s stated that it had not brought back fragrance or makeup sampling.
Lawrence Gostin from Georgetown University is a public health expert. He said that handling food and eating it has not been a major way for COVID-19 to spread. However, food sampling can lead people to gather together and increase the risk of transmission. He also mentioned concerns regarding food sampling beyond the coronavirus. “Multiple hands can grab samples and spread germs. Contaminated gloves can disperse bacteria.”
Gostin stated that it is safer and more sensible to use fully-packaged samples for makeup testing. To prevent viruses such as influenza from spreading through toys and surfaces, it is important to clean them frequently.
Camp toys retailer, which had a focus on children playing with toys, now sells individually wrapped craft kits. Tiffany Markofsky is the company’s marketing director. It’s important to stick to toys that are easy to clean, such as remote-controlled toy cars and dolls with fake hair, when testing toys.
Marianne Szymanski is president of Toy Tips Inc. and a toy guide. She believes that toy testing will be limited because of lingering concerns about germs from the pandemic.
Some retailers have stopped selling samples. According to CEO Natasha Cornstein, Blushington, a West Hollywood-based beauty brand, isn’t closing its six stores. Instead, it is moving towards virtual makeup sessions and services at customers’ homes. She believes that shoppers feel more in control of their home and hygiene.
She said that COVID is bringing out a new generation of consumers with different lifestyles. It’s not just about COVID right now.