Retail sampling, also known as ab in-store demo, is a fun, unique, and engaging way to introduce new products to shoppers through product demonstrations or sampling. They can help you attract new customers, build personal relationships and trust, and increase sales and loyalty.
In this article you’ll learn about the benefits of store demos, best practices for in-store demos and sampling, and trends to be aware of.
Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
What are in-store demos?
Brands and retailers use in-store demos to engage with prospective and existing customers by providing a human touch and letting shoppers experience and test products before they buy them.
For example, a wine and cheese shop might offer small samples of cheese with a sip of wine and have various tasting stations throughout the store. A beauty shop might have a testing sink where shoppers can test an exfoliating scrub before making a purchase.
Store demos and sampling are usually part of a broader experiential retail strategy and have always been a part of retail. But these days, it’s a top priority for brands. According to our research, 40% of brands said offering experiential retail would be a main objective in the next year, something 32% of consumers say they’re likely to engage with.
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The benefits of in-store demonstrations
In-store demonstrations provide a bevy of benefits that can help you engage your customers and improve your products and service. In-store demos empower you to:
- Test new brands or products
- Enhance in-store experience
- Improve customer loyalty
- Increase sales
- Gather customer feedback
Let’s take a closer look at these benefits:
Test new brands or products
In-store demonstrations are the perfect opportunity to introduce new products to your customers and get feedback from them before you decide to invest in inventory. This way, you’ll already know if there’s a demand for the new merchandise you’re considering and can avoid manufacturing or buying items that won’t sell.
“When I think of a retail store, its value isn’t strictly transactional,” explains Dustin Kroft, Founder of Toronto-based furniture brand, Kroft. It’s also a great place to learn about what your customers like.”
I love that we can put new experimental designs on the sales floor and see how people respond and react to them. We can experiment and get feedback so much quicker with less risk.
Use that qualitative feedback in tandem with the data you see in sales reports to be more cost-effective with inventory you manufacture or purchase.
Enhance in-store experience
81% of Gen Z consumers prefer in-store experiences and discovering new products in person (versus online). And more than 50% say browsing in-store is a way to disconnect from the digital world. Offering in-store demos and sampling is a great way to help meet the needs of this growing audience.
Whether you let shoppers sample products themselves or watch a demo, these options to interact and connect will help enhance the in-store experience.
Improve customer loyalty
Connecting with shoppers one-to-one or one-to-many—whether it’s to educate them about how your products are made or explain the benefits of using them—is a surefire way to build stronger and longer-lasting relationships.
The more opportunities you create to engage with people, the more likely they are to feel a connection with you and your business, which can help improve customer loyalty.
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In-store demos can help increase sales in several ways:
- If shoppers can test a product, they’ll know if they like it, making the purchase less of a guessing game.
- After sampling a product—for example, at the cheese shop mentioned above—the customer might feel a sense of obligation to buy a block of cheese to reciprocate after receiving something for free.
- Store demos can help bring people into your store; increased foot traffic means there will be more potential buyers visiting your store in a given period of time.
- Consumers who have considered buying from you in the past, but didn’t take the plunge, may be more likely to make a purchase during an in-store demo as they’ll be able to try the products first.
Gather customer feedback
Any opportunity to engage with shoppers and let them know you’re interested in their feedback is worthwhile. It will help you improve your product assortment, avoid stocking merchandise that won’t sell, and generally get more insight into who your customers are and what they’re looking for.
Tips for in-store sampling and demos
There are some best practices to follow when running in-store demos and sampling promotions. Here are som tips to ensure you have a successful demonstration:
- Review inventory levels first
- Consider hiring brand ambassadors
- Combine demos with promotions
- Be selective with demo products
- Schedule demos during peak hours
Let's take a closer look at each.
Review inventory levels first
The last thing you want is to run out of inventory when you have a store full of shoppers who are excited to try (and buy) new products.
Making sure you have enough stock of the products you’re sampling to fulfill demand is key for a successful store demo event. You’ll want customers to feel satisfied with the experience as well as excited to go home and use their new products.
Consider hiring brand ambassadors
Brand ambassadors or representatives are a great way to increase brand awareness and engagement with shoppers. Whether you have brand ambassadors in your store during a demo day or hire them to hand out samples at another location or event, having more people to educate potential and existing customers about the products you sell will help grow your brand.
Combine demos with promotions
Now that you have the shoppers’ attention, you can increase your chances of closing the sale by offering special promotions on products you’re demonstrating or sampling. This can help convert browsers into paying customers—especially if the promotion is only available during the demo.
💡 PRO TIP: With Shopify, it’s easy to create discount codes for your next demo. To see how often the discount code is used for online and in-store purchases, view the Sales by discount report in Shopify admin.
Be selective with demo products
Simple, affordable, and easy-to-use products don’t usually require much explanation. The customer can easily figure out how to use them, and even if the item doesn’t work the way they hoped, it’s not a huge loss.
This makes technical and higher-ticket items a better option for in-store demos or sampling, such as clothing made from innovative fabric.
Educating customers about the features and benefits of products they may be confused about can help increase their trust both in the products and your brand. And if shoppers are hesitant because of a higher price point, having the chance to try the item first can give them the confidence to buy.
Schedule demos during peak hours
As two of the main advantages of in-store demos are testing new products and getting customer feedback, you’ll want to schedule store demos during your busiest hours. That way, you’ll get to engage with more shoppers, build more relationships, and get enough feedback to inform your plans to stock new products (or more of existing ones). Plus, the more foot traffic you have, the more likely you are to increase sales.
💡 PRO TIP: To see which days of the week and hours of the day have higher sales at a store location, view the Retail sales by point of sale location report in Shopify admin.
Store demo trends to watch
Experiential retail is all about creating engaging, unique, and memorable shopping experiences for customers. It’s a way to add a personal touch and invite shoppers to experience your brand and products in-person.
And as we noted earlier, this is not a trend to sleep on if you want your retail business to stay competitive—40% of brands said offering experiential retail would be a top priority for them this year, and more than a third of consumers plan to engage with brands via experiential moments in the same period.
Health and safety concerns
Regardless of the products you’re demonstrating or sampling, maintaining health and safety is crucial. Not only for you, your store staff, and your customer’s well being, but also to create a comfortable environment where people actually want to come in and demo and sample products.
The precautions and requirements you should take will depend on the products you sell and your region. For example, if you’re sampling food, it may need to be pre-packaged and distributed to customers in a way that still meets social distancing rules. Or you may have to set a limit to the number of people that can gather in one area of your store to try products.
Before your in-store demo, make sure you know what the rules are in your location, and abide by them.
When we surveyed retailers to get insights into the future of commerce, 46% of brands said they’re investing in showrooming to improve the in-store experience.
But what is showrooming, exactly? It’s a way to let customers test, try, and feel products in person without having to make a purchase on the spot. Of course, they can (and that would be ideal), but as long as your online and offline storefronts are unified, shoppers can complete their order online later.
Another benefit of showrooming is that you can carry less stock in your shop and use the space to enhance the in-store experience with demos, sampling, events, or appointment shopping.
Start using demonstrations at your store
Doing in-store demos doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. You can start small by creating a designated area in your store for monthly or quarterly demonstrations and assign one of your employees to manage the events. As you learn what works and doesn’t, you can iterate and continually improve the in-store experience.
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