In a (post) Covid context that has completely changed consumer practices and buying patterns, Holy Sampling, via the Harris Interactive research institute, has sought to question a broad panel of women who use perfumes, skincare products and make-up. More than 1,600 women were questioned, divided into two groups: one representative of French women aged 18 to 59 and the other composed of women — known as digital sampling — who had already been subjected to an e-sampling campaign run by Holy Sampling.

Online purchases are hindered by the lack of tests

The challenge here is to understand what users expect from brands in the sector, in a context where the number of visits to POS has not returned to its pre-Covid level, with a very noticeable impact on selective distribution and single-brand shops — a drop that is not fully offset by digital channels and e-commerce. Women interviewed said they find it difficult to buy new products on the Internet without being able to test them first. However, they are not reluctant to buy online products that they already know/use.

Finally, the regulatory framework has also strongly motivated this study, since from 1 July 2022 it will be forbidden to issue a sample without the consumer’s explicit request.

The primary vehicle for discovery and purchase

Another finding of the study is that consumers feel more willing and comfortable asking for samples online than in POS.

92% of French women say that samples are useful to their shopping experience, of which 45% consider them indispensable - this figure climbs to 75% with digital sampling.

This need to test the product before purchasing it is consistent with the other findings of the study. 55 % of French women say they trust themselves in terms of advice and recommendations, followed by sales advisers and friends and relatives. For digital sampling, 72% trust themselves first, then brands (55%) and finally the opinions of online users (44%).

Samples are preferred as the primary means of discovery (60% for French women, 80% for digital sampling), far ahead of other traditional contact means such as reviews (46%) and advertising (40%).

The sample appears to be the most influential touchpoint across the entire consumer journey, which is divided into four stages: discovery, appreciation, purchase and recommendation.

Digital experience must be completed by a sensory experience through e-sampling

"The digital experience is the big concern of brands today! But as we have seen, for categories such as skin care, make-up and perfume, the purchase decision is largely based on testing. This is where e-sampling comes in. It will allow introducing samples in homes, precisely where the consumer uses her products," explains Bruno Pinheiro, co-founder of Holy Sampling.

By using e-sampling instead of mass sampling at its distributors, for example, the brand will be able to gradually establish a close relationship with its customers and, through the collection of data, personalise its approach - both in terms of the sample sent and in the brand’s future statements (for CRM opt-ins). Indeed, the study shows that French women have high expectations in terms of personalisation, consideration and relationship with brands. Data is still not used enough and often remains transactional rather than experiential.

Annie Begnaud, Innovation Strategy Consultant and Sampling Specialist, agrees with the overly timid CRM use of sampling and adds "customer experience is fundamental to the performance of a digital sampling campaign: unboxing and customer follow-up after receipt are decisive and as important as a proper targeting."

For Holy Sampling, a sample must be received and used in optimal conditions, and this also implies the right amount of product, allowing it to be used over several days so that it becomes part of the future customer’s beauty routine. "This is when it is most effective and strongly encourages the purchasing act," stresses Olivia Delagarde, the co-founder.

"Holy Sampling’s mission is to restore the value of samples by creating original and customisable sampling paths. We encourage qualitative and personalised packaging to strengthen the bond between the brand and its consumers but also encourage them to share their experiences as these packages make the sample instagrammable and convey the brand’s image," adds Olivia Delagarde.

A strategy that is proving its worth since, according to the company, the conversion rate is +10 points for traditional e-sampling against +20 points for Holy Sampling.