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Free Enterprise : Cosmetics Firms Hope to Build New Loyalties With More Sample Giveaways

February 05, 1989|PADDY CALISTRO

AS COMPETITION intensifies in department-store cosmetics sales, manufacturers of beauty products are persistently seeking new ways to attract customers. This year will see a big return to an old method that may still be the best: free samples.

As a cosmetics ad in a recent issue of Vogue states: "One sample is worth 1,000 words." And market research supports the adage. Firms are finding that sampling is the surest way to draw customers. Sumiko Warden, senior vice president of Kao Sofina, says studies indicate that about 80% of women who use Sofina products--and are given samples of new products--return to purchase full-size versions. Of those who have never tried the brand, at least 20% return to buy.

Robert Nielsen, chairman and president of Revlon's fashion and designer division, is so sure about sampling that he says Revlon will be offering fewer "gifts-with-purchase" and "purchases-with-purchase," instead offering more free miniatures of new items. "Once a woman tries a product and comes back to buy, we know we have a serious customer," Nielsen says.

He adds that sampling is an important feature of The Nines, a new "super-counter" concept that Revlon has introduced in department stores. Nine Revlon-owned collections--including Princess Marcella Borghese, Charles of the Ritz and Ultima II--are sold at the same counter, and complimentary samples of most treatments and some makeup are available.

Sampling is expensive, says Tony Michaels, senior vice president of marketing and advertising at Lancome, noting that samples can cost 35 cents to $1 apiece. "But the direct response is unbeatable. When we sample in March and sales go up in April, we know that 80% of that business is due to sampling." Lancome launches Hydra-Bleu masque in department stores this month, distributing almost 1 million complimentary foil packets filled with the hydrating masque.

Control is vital to the process. Warden points out that random sampling doesn't work: "We only give samples when we can talk to the customer," she says. "We explain how to use it and then follow up with a questionnaire about how she liked it."

Although many firms have been sampling for several years, in magazines and in stores, 1989 will represent a tremendous push. Biotherm, for instance, is tripling its budget for samples, says Margaret Sharkey, the firm's general manager. "Right now we're sampling Reducteur Rides Wrinkle Smoother," Sharkey says. "We have as many samples on that product as we did on all products last year."

At Clinique, Lancome and Biotherm, gifts-with-purchase programs continue. Michaels says that stores demand them as a consumer enticement. "But even the stores are beginning to see how important samples are." At Clinique, a firm known for its extensive gift-with-purchase campaigns, Senior Vice President Iris Model reports that the firm will increase sampling this year, but that gift-with-purchase programs will not be reduced. One million free samples of Moisture Surge moisturizer will be distributed at Clinique counters this month.

The sampling system may be a boon to sales, but it's equally beneficial to potential buyers. As Model says, "The consumer knows exactly what she's getting."

Model: Erica Todd / L.A. Models

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