Ulta Beauty Limits Free Sample To Boost Loyalty

Who doesn’t love a free sample?   

Enthusiasm for freebies has made them a marketing tool long-loved by retailers and brands, but are they truly effective? 

As a tool to get your product out to the masses, it’s an approach designed to cast a wide net to attract and engage as many consumers as possible. However, in reality, this approach is more wasteful than beneficial.  

While 63% of consumers reportedly make a purchase after trying a sample product, what about the remaining 37% who don’t convert? How does the provision of free samples benefit them, and what becomes of those unused samples?  

In an interview with PYMNTS, Robina Verbeek, co-CEO and co-founder of SOS, explores the shortcomings of the existing free sample strategy and discusses a more effective approach that involves utilizing retail media to target a more discerning consumer base, increasing the likelihood of building brand loyalty.  

“When you check out, you get a handful of samples; there’s no real trackability or efficiency around that process. And there’s not much intentionality either from the user perspective or consumer perspective,” said Verbeek.  

Taking this into consideration, Verbeek emphasizes SOS’s intention to inject purpose and efficiency into the entire process.  

In collaboration with Ulta Beauty, SOS machines have been strategically deployed in 10 markets within Ulta Beauty stores. These machines are prominently located at the beauty bar in the center of each store, acting as guides for users to delve into and understand various brands.  

Furthermore, the machine’s user journey enables customers to uncover product ingredients and usage instructions. By entering their phone number linked to their Ulta Rewards account, members can receive one free sample per week. This approach encourages consumers to be more deliberate in their sample selections, promoting a considerate and sustainable decision-making process.   

What SOS Is

According to Verbeek, SOS operates as a commerce media platform, linking commerce, sampling, and retail activity through media integration. With a touchscreen on its exterior, the machine provides a mix of still images, videos and dynamic and interactive content to engage those nearby.   

“So, when you’re in a store or frankly any location where an SOS machine exists, you will see content, full surveys, fun facts that capture attention and bring you into that experience — and then you are introduced to the world of SOS,” said Verbeek.  

Is This What Consumers Want?

As brands look to utilize samples for promotions, especially with the approaching holiday season, according to Verbeek, they can utilize SOS to align with festive themes and create campaigns that not only introduce their product but also target the right consumers who are likely to make a purchase.  

Moreover, Verbeek highlights the adaptability of the SOS network to specific locations and seasons. The network evaluates product assortments, considering variables like climate, location and data type.  

Sampling Beyond Beauty

To take its sustainable approach beyond the beauty counter, SOS initiated a media campaign in collaboration with a tattoo aftercare brand during the Stanley Cup at NHL locations. This partnership encompasses media exposure and product sampling through SOS machines and has since expanded to encompass campaigns at Amrit Bank EverThink Arenas, which are the home venues for the Florida Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars.  

Future of Sustainable Sampling

Verbeek envisions SOS being ubiquitous in places outside people’s homes. The objective is to establish a presence in every college campus, office, sports arena, Ulta store, and potentially even Starbucks, with the potential for international expansion.