Underlying brands’ advertising history is a flirtation with new ways to engage consumers. Today it’s AI and VR. Yesterday it was print, TV and banner ads.

In this enduring quest for engagement, one aspect of buying and selling continues accelerating: e-commerce. According to eMarketer, the U.S. currently has 217 million online shoppers – more than 66% of the total population.

How can marketers best tap into the e-commerce boom? Ironically, the most effective route to engaging online consumers lies in marrying a 200-year-old marketing tradition with e-commerce. Called e-commerce product sampling, it’s being adopted by leading brands and retailers.

CPG spending on all product sampling is projected to grow 19% in the next three years and hit more than $70 billion in 2022. Sampling to complement e-commerce is expanding even faster. Domain leader BrandShare expects triple-digit growth of its e-commerce sampling business from 2013 to EOY 2017.

What’s the appeal? Inserting relevant products in e-commerce packages delivered to homes surprises and delights buyers. An instant feel-good, it encourages product trial, social sharing, and – ultimately – purchase of the sampled product.

Consider these stats:

E-commerce sampling provides: 

  • A 100% open rate
  • A 96%-plus trial rate
  • Up to 32% conversion rates 

In a Sampling Effectiveness Advisors survey, nearly three-quarters (73%) of consumers said a sample would persuade them to buy a new product, far exceeding 8% for a TV commercial and 5% for online advertising.  

Sampling fills an experiential gap created through e-commerce by inviting consumers to interact with your brand on a more intimate level. Marketers from any consumer sector can easily implement a highly-effective, turnkey e-commerce sampling strategy by following three key practices:

1. Maintain brand consistency.

Integrate sampling into multichannel advertising campaigns. Sampling is a critical aspect of a successful marketing mix. It is proven to drive product trial and encourage conversion. Buyers can experience your brand in the comfort of their homes before, during and after other moments of media exposure. The most effective e-commerce sampling executions derive from national media campaigns.

A great example of this e-commerce extension is the Persil ProClean trifold brochure (See photo) that accompanied the laundry detergent sample pouch in a sample package Brandshare developed. The collateral featured the brand’s spokesperson – an instantly recognizable character from Persil’s national television, print and digital activations.

Mirror your overall branding strategy. There is no need to re-create the wheel. If you have samples or trial-size products on hand, you can easily adapt existing creative into an appropriate print format for e-commerce delivery. This can include single-sided collateral cards, bifold brochures or custom dimensional packaging. (See “What’s Hot in Sample Packaging” below.)

Convey a call to action. Once you’ve initiated trial of your product through e-commerce sampling, communicate the consumer’s next step on the printed collateral card that accompanies your sample. This can be a user survey, a drive to rate and review, a call to purchase, or an engaging social sweepstakes. 

2. Let structure and content lead.

Ingredients matter. Food, candy, beverages, laundry, cosmetics and fragrances are each governed by regulations for e-commerce delivery. Work with a vendor with deep knowledge of logistical guidelines to ensure that samples are produced and packaged to meet QA standards upheld by e-commerce retailers and their transportation partners.

Sachet, sachet, sachet. Sachets aren’t the only optimal format for e-commerce sampling, but they are one of the most popular for beauty, hair care, skin care and laundry products. A generously-sized, premium bifold from L’Oréal Paris, (See photo) developed by BrandShare, housed a trio of shampoo, conditioner and oil-in-cream sachets. Other favored formats include mini-tubes, travel-size bottles, pouches and matchbook packets.

Keep weights conservative. A finished e-commerce sample unit – which includes print collateral in fin-sealed poly overwrap – should be lighter than 2.5 ounces to enable economical placement inside online merchandise packages. Weightier samples can be distributed for a higher cost. They also can be delivered through additional e-commerce channels, such as online grocery sample bags or subscription boxes.

3. Cater to your demographic.

Conduct competitive research. Find out what’s trending in printing, packaging, overwrapping and fulfillment. Communicate regularly with various creative agencies and production houses to uncover new colors, textures and embossing technologies.

Follow industry trends. Make design and packaging elegantly minimal for premium and luxury brands. Go big and bold for younger-skewing categories. Embrace illustrative storytelling for children’s products. Use deeper, darker, richer tones to celebrate masculinity. Maintain appetizingly crisp and vivid primary colors for food and beverage campaigns, as Maltesers did in a BrandShare-developed sample package by replicating an iconic red background and rich chocolate imagery to work up the recipient’s appetite. (See photo)

Heed your audience’s preferences. Develop a psycho-graphically targeted distribution plan to realize the full impact of e-commerce sampling. Induce sustained engagement and increase lifetime value by delivering relevant samples to active online shoppers interested in brand discovery.

Opportunities to connect with diverse buying populations are abundant, particularly when you have the ability to engage millions of consumers every month through an established e-commerce media network.

What’s Hot In Sample Packaging

Typical e-commerce sample formats consist of a flat or bifold collateral card with a sample overwrapped in poly for safe transport inside e-commerce boxes. Recently, major CPG players have started experimenting with dimensional packaging and custom cartons to further protect e-commerce samples and reinforce brand strategy.

Case in point: BrandShare developed a mini-carton to distribute Teddy Soft Bakes samples inside e-commerce packages. The custom carton replicated the fun, colorful and illustrative approach of the product packaging for instant brand recognition. (See photo)

If you’re serious about optimizing your e-commerce results, you need to expand beyond digital and traditional advertising. Focusing on these best practices will help you develop audience-tailored product samples that nurture customer loyalty and brand engagement. You now have the key steps to get you started along a path that’s a win for all parties – brands, retailers and the buying public.