The Shocking Reason Stores Are Desperate To Bring Back Free Samples

Many shoppers can longingly look back on the days when free samples were a given as part of the shopping experience. When faced with a task as mundane as picking up your weekly groceries, there was nothing as exciting as walking by a worker gleefully handing out free bites of food available at the store. And if that snack was tasty enough, the product may have even earned a spot in your shopping cart.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, some states, like New York, eliminated free samples in efforts to stop the spread of the virus (per New York Department of Agriculture and Markets). Even in places where the practice wasn't banned, stores took it upon themselves to take free sample stands out of locations. More than two years later, some stores have found ways to bring free samples back with some extra sanitary measures in place, like Costco and Sam's Club, but still, free sample booths don't pop up nearly as frequently as they once did. Not only are customers awaiting their full return, but stores are too. Judging by statistics, it makes sense that companies want free samples back even more than their patrons (via Yahoo! Finance).

The power of free samples

Aside from being a little gesture that can brighten the shopping experience, free samples actually play a critical role in product sales. According to Shopify, handing out samples can increase the sales of a product by a whopping 2,000%. Not only do free samples introduce shoppers to brands that they may otherwise look past, but they also play on the concept of reciprocity; when someone is kind enough to give you a bit of their product for free, you may be urged to reciprocate their kindness by supporting them. 

One testimony of this phenomenon came from the president of the tofu company Phoenix Bean, who stated that 80% of shoppers who tasted her product ended up purchasing it (via Yahoo! Finance). It's also a good way to build customer loyalty. "When we compare it to other in-store mediums ... in-store product demonstration has the highest [sales] lift," Giovanni DeMeo, of the company Interactions, which handles Costco's samples, told The Atlantic. With the impressive role that free samples can play for a company, it's no wonder that grocers are scrambling to bring them back to stores. After all, it's a win-win for companies who sell the sampled products, and consumers who get a free bite to eat.