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Free Samples Make Supermarket Comeback Amid Crowded Online Ad Space

free samples in grocery store

Amid a crowded digital ad space, brands are embracing an analog marketing tactic: free samples.

As Bloomberg News reported Monday (Oct. 16), a growing number of retailers are employing this method to entice consumers.

The report gives the example of Walmart, which has been holding weekend demonstrations with complimentary samples at more than 120 stores since June, with plans to expand this service to 1,000 locations by February.

As reported here recently, this offering isn’t just about food, but open to any advertisers with products sold at Walmart. A report from Walmart’s advertising division found that demo stations are a “confirmed element of the shopper marketing playbook.”

“Free sampling in stores is a great way for brands — which have saturated the marketing opportunities on Facebook and Google — to get more exposure,” Andrew Lipsman, an analyst at Insider Intelligence, told Bloomberg.

The Bloomberg report notes that targeted online ads have become less effective since 2021, the year Apple began allowing users to block brands from tracking behavior. In addition, a number of states have passed digital privacy laws that limit access to consumer data.

That means it costs much more to find new customers via social media and keyword search ads, the report says. It points to a study by SimplicityDX showing that online merchants lost an average of $29 on each purchase from a new customer last year, more than three times the cost from eight years ago.

Sampling offers a number of benefits, as PYMNTS wrote last month.

“Retailers reap benefits through the strategic use of product sampling. Firstly, they save money by reducing return rates, restocking fees, return shipping expenses, and depreciation in resale value,” that report said.

In addition, samples nurture brand loyalty by improving the customer experience. This loyalty often leads to repeat business, generates word-of-mouth referrals, and nurtures durable customer relationships.

Moreover, samples provide a source of market insights, letting brands collect feedback, spurring product refinements and keeping them ahead in the competitive retail space.

Meanwhile, grocers are still busy trying to drive digital engagement, PYMNTS wrote earlier this month. For example, multinational grocer Ahold Delhaize’s U.S. eCommerce arm, Peapod Digital Labs, announced Oct. 4 the debut of native apps for its banners, adding to their existing mobile-optimized sites.

“Efficiency wasn’t the only priority,” Paul Yang, Peapod Digital Labs’ director of mobile engineering, said in a statement. “It’s also our aim to create a more modern interface with aesthetic representative of each of the brands, complete with animations to bring moments of delight into what is typically a transactional experience.”