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The Joy (and Key Tactic) of the Season Is…Sampling

Christmastime is my favourite time of year, and it has nothing to do with gifts. The chill in the air, the lights and decorations, the holiday pop-up stores, the many seasonal events, and of course, the food and festive beverages, I enjoy it all! And no city embraces the holiday season like New York — the merry atmosphere can draw even the most diehard online shopper out of their apartment to see the sights and check out the stores. And although I admit to doing an abundance of Christmas shopping online out of necessity, I love to hit the “brick and mortar” stores this time of year — despite the crowds and inordinate number of tourists.

Besides the colourful lights and decorations that adorn every store, another fun aspect of the season – and a smart marketing tactic – is product sampling: a mini hors d’oeuvre, a piece of chocolate, a ginger cookie, a sip of hot chocolate, hot cider, or maybe mulled wine…But there seems to be a scarcity of coffee and tea sampling, which confounds me. The axiom in real estate is “location, location, location.” For the coffee and tea industries, it really should be “sampling, sampling, sampling,” particularly during the crucial holiday-selling season — be it a retailer, coffeehouse, café, or tea shop, and yet I see a lot of missed opportunities every holiday season.

Advertising can go only so far. Sometimes enticing consumers to purchase a product means letting them try before they buy it. Product sampling continues to rank as one of the most effective marketing tactics. It’s difficult to impact consumers today, but sampling puts the physical product in consumers’ hands. And consumers love getting something free. An Opinion Research Corp poll found that 61% of consumers surveyed said that sampling a product is the most efficacious way to motivate them to try a brand (per www.anpost.ie).

Consumers like to know what they are buying, and today, as consumers are becoming more discerning coffee and tea drinkers, many will not buy what they do not know or have not tried. Retailers are selling coffee and tea gift sets with cookies, candies, decorative mugs or cups, and everything you need to make a “great cup of tea or coffee.” While the coffee and tea included in the gift set is described, few of the retailers I’ve visited (and I’ve hit many this year) are offering samples of the tea or coffee from the sets. The same is true with coffeehouses and cafés (tea shops are doing better), which have stronger opportunities to offer samples, but do not seem to be doing so. Coffeehouses and cafés sell whole bean and ground coffee, many offer tea (loose leaf and teabags), and gift sets, but I have yet to see any sampling of the holiday flavours.

Any type of in-store promotion can increase sales for retail products, but this is especially true for food and beverage items. Most foodservice establishments and retailers have been selling holiday-themed coffees and teas and accompanying merchandise since mid-November (some even earlier). A coffeehouse/café could have coffee and tea samplings just a couple of nights per week during key high-traffic times, and retailers could certainly do the same, or at least on weekends. They could also use this time to promote non-holiday, year-round or soon-to-be released flavours for those consumers who may want something less festive.

Product sampling can also prompt repeat visitors and engender consumer loyalty. The holiday-selling season is a short but a critical one for sales, so why not take advantage of every opportunity to attract consumers?

Happy Holidays!

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