Thursday, 4 August 2011

Sampling opportunities for beauty brands

I’ve always liked the idea of sample sizes of beauty products, as it can be difficult to know what products are best for your face or body. I’ve spent more than I care to remember on products that I only end up using a couple of times, as it turns out it is either not suitable for my needs or it hasn’t performed in the way I thought it would.

Sampling can be costly activity for beauty brands, so it is vital that it is done in the right way to ensure it delivers a return on investment.

I spoke to two beauty industry experts from both sides of sampling to find out how beauty brands can use sampling to their advantage.

Mark Lockyer is MD of Sampling Innovations Ltd, the UK’s leading experts in promotional beauty sampling innovations.

Louise Reed is head of marketing and communications at, an online beauty boutique. Being an online store, customers can’t directly try the beauty products before they buy them as they would in a high street store, so uses a variety of sampling initiatives to help overcome this.

...On the benefits of ‘try before you buy’

LR, “At Escentual we always try to offer our customers samples. We have always tried to include samples in our orders so customers can experience the latest launches and other products we sell.

However, further to customer research and discussions with our suppliers, we now also offer a number of ‘try before you buy’ sample sets at The idea is to offer a range of samples from a single brand, so the customers can try the products and decide which products suit them best. The customer pays for the sets, but they are then sent a gift voucher for the full price to be redeemed off that brand.

For example, our La Roche-Posay set costs £10 and comes with a whopping 36 sample products for customers to try. Once they find a product they like, they simply use the voucher to get £10 off a full-sized product. So in effect they got the samples for free and were able to try the products in the comfort of their own home. We also have sets for fragrance, make-up and hair care brands.

These sets are going down really well with our customers, and we are working with our suppliers to roll out this concept further. And because the samples go to people who want them, as opposed to random sampling, and because of the voucher, we find a lot more customers come back to buy a full-sized product. So as far as sampling is concerned, it really works.”

...On innovations in beauty sampling
ML, Sampling Innovations: “Sampling is a vibrant industry with new innovations coming through to suit every budget and brand requirement.

For fragrance we are seeing technological innovation from Castelberg, a company that has the ability to fragrance any item. As you can imagine, the options are endless and creative ideas include keepsakes such as fragranced collar stiffeners, bracelets and pillow petals. 

Another new format for fragrance is Imagin®, a credit card sized sample that contains 4-6 sprays, which is just enough to help someone decide whether they want to purchase a brand. We’re seeing many high profile brands starting to use Imagin®, including Thierry Mugler, Clive Christian, Jaeger and Liz Earle.

Lancome used ColorKiss sampling
for it's Color Fever lipstick
One of the most exciting formats I’ve seen in make-up is ColorKiss, which delivers a perfect lipstick “kiss” to the lips without mess. It’s an ideal way for lipstick brands to sample shades and for customers to try without commitment to purchasing. How many women have tried a lipstick on the back of their hand only to be disappointed with their purchase when they get it back home?

Stick packs are a sampling format that have been around for some time, but have only recently adopted by beauty companies who are using them more and more. Sampling Innovations has organised a number of successful sampling campaigns using stick packs with brands such as Sanex, Imperial Leather [see top photo], Molton Brown and Space NK. I’m very pleased that we have been at the forefront of changing consumers’ perceptions about this sampling format, which offers easy opening and more accurate dosage than other traditional sachet shapes.”

...On beauty brands’ understanding of sampling

LR, “Fortunately I think more and more brands are starting to appreciate the importance of sampling, but not everybody has the budget for it. We tend to still get more support from the larger multinationals, as they can assign large amounts of budget for samples. The smaller independent retailers tend to have fewer samples, and when they do, quite often they are reserved for their PR teams.

I do still think that brands focus on new launches – and whilst this is understandable, many customers still want to try the existing products but it can be impossible to get hold of samples for older products.”

ML, Sampling Innovations: “While brands have looked to cut back on TV and press advertising [during the economic downturn], we’ve found that many are still investing heavily in sampling activity. Sampling can be highly profitable so long as the quality of the sample reflects well on the brand. Although it might be tempting to cut corners, this will be to the detriment of the sampling activity.

I would like to see the distribution of samples handled more efficiently. All too often I see samples left out in baskets or bins so people can help themselves and they’ll take 3 or 4 instead of one.”

...On sampling opportunities for the internet
ML, Sampling Innovations: “A few years ago, magazines and in-store activity were the main method of sampling for beauty brands, but this has all changed with the advent of the internet. There are now many new opportunities for brands to sample through their own and retailer websites, as well as sampling schemes such as Latest in Beauty and Glossy Box, which sell sample boxes of beauty products. There’s been an explosion of online fashion retailers and we’ve produced several samples to be sent out to purchasers of fashion - on the ASOS website, for instance.

A few years ago, fragrance sampling on the internet was unheard of. Ormonde Jayne was one of the first UK companies to sell starter kits of fragrance samples, enabling customers to try from the complete range before committing to a purchase.”

LR, “Being an online retailer, our customers can’t directly try the products we sell. We know they can try them via high street shops – but they can also buy them there too! So we need to provide samples to ensure our customers can try the products we sell beforehand. This is especially important for the more niche, prestige or hard-to-find brands that you can’t always try on the high street. If a customer has tried a product before buying, there is less risk that they would want to return it.

Customers also benefit because they get to try the products at home, as they would normally use them. For examples many fragrances change through the course of the day – the initial whiff can smell very different to the dry down a few hours later – so you need to try fragrances on your skin and appreciate every stage. It's the same with skincare products; a quick rub of cream on the back of your hand is not the same as using it in the morning on freshly cleaned skin with your usual make-up on top.

I think all beauty brands should invest in samples, as it helps the customer to really appreciate a product. And if you believe in your brand, there’s no reason not to. It may seem costly to begin with – but in time, if the product is good, customers will convert from the sample to a full size, hopefully gaining loyal customers.”

...On potential sampling opportunities in the beauty market
ML, Sampling Innovations: “Men’s toiletries is recognised as having enormous growth potential and I believe this is an area where sampling could be used to far greater effect. Some brands have done the odd campaign in gyms and sports venues, but it needs a brand like King of Shaves, Bulldog or Nivea for Men to grab that space and really gain the initiative.”

To contact Mark Lockyer at Sampling Innovations about potential sampling opportunities, email or call (0)1444 441 100.

To contact about potential stocking and sampling opportunities, email Rakesh Aggarwalat