PROMOTIONS
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SECTION THREE
Four Proven Steps to Launch a Successful E-Commerce
Sampling Campaign

By Doug Guyer

E-commerce’s star keeps rising, with eMarketer projecting a 15% bump this year and two-thirds of the U.S. population shopping online. While many brands and retailers have jumped on the e-commerce bandwagon, some are still on the sidelines when it comes to a powerful, related trend – e-commerce product sampling.

Product sampling expands the utility of e-commerce. The reason is simple: Delivering product samples via online order packages direct to homes lets brands surprise and delight consumers. E-commerce sampling produces a 100% open rate, a 96%-plus trial rate, and conversion rates of up to 32%.

Around for 200 years, product sampling has grown new legs with the advent of e-commerce. BrandShare, which invented e-commerce sampling and leads the domain, using a proprietary media network, projects triple-digit growth of its e-commerce sampling business from 2013 to the end of this year.

In a Sampling Effectiveness Advisors survey, nearly three of four consumers (73 percent) said a sample would persuade them to buy a new product, compared with 8% for a TV commercial and 5% for online advertising. BrandShare surveys of consumers receiving e-commerce samples it has created have produced similar results, with a product sample garnering up to an 86% rating.

Like any marketing tactic, e-commerce product sampling requires planning and process, although you can go to market with a campaign rather quickly. Here are 4 steps to ensure you do it correctly:

Plan Ahead: Build E-commerce sampling into your marketing plan. Schedule sampling to coincide with other media activation points. Match the scale of your e-commerce sampling effort with your marketing objectives and budget. Leading brands will get best results from distributing at least 250,000 sample units, but the scale can go as high as 70 million packages a month.

Before launching a sampling campaign, make sure your product is available for in-store or online purchase. A consumer who likes a product after trying it typically will buy it within 7 to 21 days of receiving a sample. 

Identify Your Targets: Select the sets of active buyers you want to target through online retailers. Almost any demographic or psychographic group is within reach. For example, our 760-plus retail partners are organized across 42 lifestyle networks that represent powerful shopping communities with demonstrable interest in new products and services.

Depending on strategic requirements, a brand can conduct a scaled, one-million-unit campaign through such major e-commerce retailers as Walmart.com or Kohls.com, or touch niche audiences, including millennial fashionistas and outdoor enthusiasts, through retailers such as RueLaLa.com, TheClymb.com and Backcountry.com.

Allow Enough Time: Factor in time to manufacture samples, which could be trial-size packs, travel-size items, sachets, mini-tubes, small bottles, pouches or other single-serve formats. Determine quantities to reach all target markets. For products with expiration dates, you may need to stage manufacturing. 

Allot two additional weeks to produce print collateral, and to overwrap samples to protect them inside merchandise packages. Once final sample units are assembled and packed, allow another one to two weeks for shipping to the e-commerce retailer fulfillment centers.

Time required to distribute samples will depend on quantities and lifestyle categories. The most successful e-commerce sampling campaigns include 250,000 or more units. A retailer such as Walmart can distribute that number in two to three days, while retailers such as Pharmapacks.com, Zulily.com and JustFab.com may need one to two weeks. Also figure on adding to more e-commerce packages during key buying periods, including Cyber Monday, the holidays and back-to-school.

Trigger Post-Trial Activation: To extend the life of your campaign, provide a specific call to action on the print media accompanying your sample. It could be a custom survey, a drive to rate and review a product, a call to purchase, or an engaging social sweepstakes.

As these steps illustrate, an effective e-commerce sampling campaign requires precise, thoughtful planning and execution. It’s also critical to integrate sampling holistically with other marketing tactics to deliver consistent customer experiences and reinforce brand communications. The effort will pay off, helping you get more bang for your e-commerce buck. We expect the ROI from delivering relevant samples to online buyers will persuade smart marketers to make sampling a permanent part of brand activation campaigns.


Doug Guyer is the co-founder, president and CEO of BrandShare (www.brandshare.us), and has 33 years of brand marketing experience. He can be reached at dguyer@brandshare.us.