Free samples, arguably the world’s most enticing marketing technique, have been around for centuries. The 14th-century poem Piers Plowman depicts innkeepers offering free samples, singing “Tauerners ‘a tast for nouht’ tolden the same.” Benjamin T. Babbitt offered free samples of his soaps in the 1800s, using taglines such as “soap for all nations” and “cleanliness is the scale of civilization.” Today, grocers like Costco and cosmetic stores like Sephora attract shoppers with product samples, often proffered by a staff member. Now Amazon is doing the same thing.
Prime Samples launched in March, offering small-size CPG products to Prime members. Currently, Amazon offers samples in several categories, including food & beverages, sports nutrition, beauty & grooming, personal care & household, baby, and vitamins & supplements. While the initial launch was quiet, Amazon has recently been promoting a blog post titled Everything you need to know about Prime Samples, giving Prime subscribers a personal-feeling narrative on how Prime Samples works.
So, are the samples free? Sort of. Most samples cost $2 or $4, while boxes have a fixed price. The Women’s Luxury Beauty Sample Box, for example, is $19.99. When a customer purchases samples or sample boxes, they get credits that can be used to buy the full-sized version of items from their box. So, you can’t get a Sports Nutrition sample box and use the credits to buy coffee, but you can use them to buy protein powder. Credits expire after 180 days, encouraging customers to make a quick decision.
Will Prime Samples stick? It’s hard to say. Amazon is known for experimentation — Jeff Bezos defended the retailer’s “win big, fail often” strategy in 2014 by stating that “…a few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work.” While Prime Samples are currently only available on items Amazon sells directly, they may open the program to third-party sellers and brands after sufficient testing. Brands operating in the CPG space can learn from watching the program evolve, and picking up on what’s working (and what’s not).