Digital Product Sampling vs. Traditional In-Store Sampling

January 6, 2017
Kelly Stewart


Digital product sampling vs. traditional in-store sampling

Brands have historically relied on in-store sampling to spread the word about their products. As the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) space continues to evolve, consumer expectations and the methods that acutely account for them are evolving as well. What used to be a traditionally in-person space (think grocery store sample stands) has shifted towards a more digital approach - as more brands learn the efficiencies of this kind of targeted experiential marketing. So why would a brand consider including digital product sampling in their marketing strategy? Let’s get into it.

Digital product sampling vs. traditional in-store sampling?

What is the difference between digital and traditional product sampling?

Traditional product sampling (in-person or in-store) is a form of sensory marketing that allows consumers to physically engage with a product with their 5 senses before buying it. Consumers are enabled to familiarize themselves with a specific brand before they make an in-store purchase decision. This brand familiarity is pivotal in today’s landscape where 82% of consumers consult their smartphones for research before making an in-store purchase.

Traditional product sampling methods, like grocery stores activations, events, pop-ups or direct mail, have historically been a go-to for CPG brands with the goal of getting products into the hands of as many consumers as possible. This has proven to play an important role in boosting sales, so much so that even Amazon tried to enter the product sampling space. For one simple reason: it works.

Brand marketers however have been trying to overcome the consumer tracking and targeting barriers that come with traditional sampling methods because…

  • Who’s actually stopping by the demonstration table?
  • Is the consumer we gave a sample to within our target market?
  • How can sampling then support e-commerce efforts and ratings and reviews?
Someone shopping in-store at a grocery store looking at fruits.

Brands lose touch with consumers, and the invaluable insights that come with them, the moment they walk away.

Digital product sampling however focuses heavily on the data and insights behind sampling, giving brands the ability to target, track and re-market within their sampling programs. Brands can target very specific audiences digitally and send them physical samples in the mail.

With digital, brands can focus on reaching consumers whose lifestyle actually matches the product they are sampling - vastly increasing the potential purchase rate.

A primary difference between traditional and digital product sampling is the cost. While traditional sampling may seem less expensive on a per sample basis, there is far more wasted product and money due to a lack of consumer targeting. Digital models have a higher cost per sample, but result in much higher quality and loyal consumer base.

Marius Swart, General Partner at Henkel dx, the digital arm of Henkel, a Sampler partner and producer of global household brands like Persil, Dial and Schwarzkopf told  the Globe and Mail that "traditional product sampling has historically had a conversion rate of 1%, whereas, 25 % of consumers bought the products they sampled with digital sampling -- that is unheard of in the industry.”

What are the benefits of digital product sampling?

Brands are taking the leap from traditional to digital product sampling strategies because they are seeing these substantial breakthroughs.

Some key benefits include:

A digital sampler looking at diferent offers on their computer at home.

Digital product sampling gives brands the ability to target specific audiences to ensure the right product always ends up in the right hands. Brands are enabled to track a consumer’s product experience across multiple channels from start to finish, collecting valuable data along the way.

Digitizing a traditional space has had its difficulties though; there is a large market of freebie hunters who just want to get their hands on any free product they can get. As digital product sampling continues to progress, the fight against freebie hunters has improved drastically. Many sampling technologies now require consumers to fill out a survey to help brands better understand what drove them to trial the product in the first place, so brands can weed out the obvious freebie hunters.

The digital product sampling era has opened the door for brands to be more connected than ever with consumers, allowing them to gain deeper consumer insights. Because the targeting is done entirely online, brands are able to capture the profiles of the consumers that trial their products, making it easy to re-market to them later.

Product Sampling - Hershey's Logo

Hershey Co.‘s Canadian business used the platform to deliver 20,000 samples of a new chocolate bar to consumers in less than two weeks early this year – twice as fast as a typical sampling campaign.

Why should I add digital product sampling to my strategy?

Digital product sampling allows brands to target various specific markets and consumers while filling in the gaps of traditional sampling strategies. Such programs enable brands to keep the conversation going with consumers - brands can not only start but maintain a relationship with existing customers and emerging audiences.

An iPhone with a digital sampling quiz.

This allows brands to take their consumer engagement efforts to the next level, especially as the medium continues to become more sophisticated. Brands neglecting to incorporate digital into their current sampling strategies are getting left behind, while more innovative brands are making the customer journey more personalized than ever while fostering lasting brand adoption and advocacy.


Product sampling can be an extremely effective strategy to increase sales when executed properly, but solely relying on traditional avenues can hinder the potential impact for both the brand and consumer. Traditional product sampling allows consumers to physically experience the brand, while digital product sampling gathers valuable consumer data that can be used for re-marketing strategies. Perhaps it’s less of a competition, and more of a cohesive approach.

What if you could reach your target audience offline and online? Insights and interaction – you really can have both, learn more about digital product sampling solutions.

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