Free food is always enticing. Even when you’re not hungry, the sight of a delightful snack that’s available without a price tag surely is appealing. Grocery stores, flea markets and wholesale clubs have long been capitalizing on people’s love for free food, offering samples in their stores or at their food displays. But what’s in it for the stores besides making people happy? Here are the reasons behind the success of free food samples:
1. They increase sales.
According to Giovanni DeMeo, “When we compare it to other in-store mediums…in-store product demonstration has the highest [sales] lift.” DeMeo represents the product-demonstration company Interactions, a department of which handles Costco’s samples.
2. They increase customer loyalty.
Research has shown that, along with boosting sales, the practice of offering free food samples makes customers loyal to stores and brands over longer periods of time. For instance, Interactions’ frozen pizza samples increased sales by 600 percent.
3. They turn stores into “destinations.”
Grocery shopping often feels like a chore, and yet, the enticement of free food samples makes it more of a pleasurable experience. Costco has become something of a food hall between its free samples and in-store hot-dog cart, which offers a hot-dog-and-soda combo for $1.50.
4. Shoppers feel obligated to purchase samples.
A 2011 study in the British Food Journal found that shoppers subconsciously feel obligated to make a purchase of an item after sampling, whether as a result of social pressures from the staff member or from other samplers.
5. They help customers save money.
While retailers like Costco provide free food samples to boost sales and loyalty, which clearly works, many customers have their own agenda, and it has nothing to do with pleasing the store or buying the product. “My boyfriend and I eat a meal of Costco samples approximately three times a week. We work within walking distance and do purposely use this as a money saving technique. I don’t see anything wrong with it,” one Costco member explained. “I monitor our budget closely and I estimate we save $100 to $140 a month using this method at Costco. On the weekends we use the same technique at regular grocery stores, for example Whole Foods, Central Market and HEB, saving an additional $40 to $80 dollars a month.”
6. Samples whet the appetite.
You’ve heard never to go grocery shopping while hungry, right? Everything looks good! Well, the same can be said for sampling foods. You may not have been thinking about buying a block of cheese, but one bite of the free food sample and you’ve just got to have more! “The reason we allow sampling is we have some flavors that people have probably never seen or heard of,” according to Frostbite Ice Cream store owner Mitch Wade. “When they come in, we allow them to have a sample so they don’t buy a whole cupful of something that they don’t really like and leave here and never come back.”