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    The Buy's in the Try

    Product sampling boosts immediate sales and increases likelihood of future purchases.

    By Linda Lisanti

    If they try it, they will buy it.

    That's according to a new study from marketing research firm Arbitron Inc., which found that one-third of customers who try a sample will buy that product in the same shopping trip. Sampling also influences future purchases of a product, with 58 percent of those surveyed reporting they would buy the sampled product again.

    "This is exciting news for marketers looking for alternative ways to make an immediate, as well as long-reaching impact on consumers with a high return-on-investment," said Carol Edwards, a senior vice president with Arbitron. "This study re-enforced that the sampling approach is both effective in making new customers aware of products, while also establishing a firmer identity with those who have considered the product before."

    Sampling is common among convenience retailers, particularly when opening stores in new markets or rolling out new foodservice items. Sure, you can tell someone how fresh and delicious something is, but why not let them taste it?

    When Quick Chek built its first stores in New York last year, the New Jersey-based convenience store chain held two weeks of sampling to draw customers to the locations so they could discover what Quick Chek is about and hopefully become loyal shoppers.

    Likewise, Rutter's Farm Stores, headquartered in York, Pa., did a large amount of in-store sampling and couponing to encourage trial of its new wok program, which launched last spring as part of a completely revamped foodservice model. The result: a better-than-expected kickoff.

    BP's ampm and Canton, Mass.-based Cumberland Farms are fans of sampling as well. This June, as part of ampm's nationwide debut of its new Bigger, Better Burger, select locations offered free samples of the new hamburger and cheeseburger to let customers realize for themselves that it was "significantly better" than the retailer's previous patty.

    Cumberland Farms took a similar approach to get the word out about its new Farmhouse Coffee Blend, offering free cups of the coffee each Friday from November through early December at its roughly 600 convenience stores and gas stations located in the Northeast and Florida.

    In all, sampling successfully reaches 70 million consumers every quarter and secures considerable results both in brand awareness and loyalty, according to the Arbitron Product Sampling Study, which surveyed 1,857 respondents ages 12 and older.

    Of those polled, 28 percent said they were offered a free sample within the past three months, and of that group, 64 percent said they accepted the sample.

    The study further grouped consumers into three categories: "acquisitions," those who were new to the sampled product; "conversions," those who had heard of the product but never bought it; and "retentions," those who previously purchased the product.

    While 85 percent of the retentions and 60 percent of the conversions who sampled the product said they would purchase it again in the future, nearly half of the acquisitions (47 percent) who sampled felt encouraged to purchase that product. Meanwhile, 35 percent of all respondents said they purchased the sampled product that same day. Next time you're thinking up ways to get customers to purchase the latest sandwich variety or grab a cup of the newest coffee blend, try giving them one for free. One bite or sip may be all it takes to ring up sales not only that day, but well into the future.

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