Why We Need to Try Before We Buy

“It sure looked a heck of a lot bigger when I saw the picture online…” said my brother-in-law as he unpacked the group of giftbags he bought online.  It was a relatively inconsequential purchase, but if only he’d been able to see it, touch it, and try it before he bought it, then there’d be no surprises, right?

While his online purchase snafu was small, the truth is that there are some categories of consumer goods where that that phone or computer screen barrier can be much less surmountable.  Categories that include things we put on or in our bodies find themselves up against a much stronger need to touch and feel options beforehand.

The effect of touching a product can’t be underestimated – several studies have long shown that touching merchandise in a store increases a shopper’s likelihood of purchasing it.  Scientists have found that merely touching an item increases our sense of ownership towards it.  This sense of ownership also translates into a willingness to pay more for these items.

In a recent survey we conducted about cosmetics, we found this desire to touch and try on clear display. 78% of women won’t purchase a cosmetic product without some opportunity to try it beforehand.  This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise – who wants to unwittingly look like a clown then the shade they choose looks awful on them?

The traditional answer to this need has been the in-store cosmetics counter, complete with immaculately styled assistants ready to paint consumers with their products. But this isn’t the answer most seek – only a quarter of women prefer to try their new cosmetics via those (hopefully not contaminated) testers in store.  In fact 42% of women want their own little samples to take home to apply themselves.  Their own hands, in their own space, with their own lighting, make women more confident that the product will fit into their own look and life.

This preference is part of the “magic sauce” behind the success of beauty sample boxes like Ipsy, Birchbox, and GlossyBox (and now even offered by Target and WalMart). These business models have channeled this home sampling desire into a profitable market (and a great opportunity for brands to put themselves into consumers’ hands).

The beauty boxes can deliver samples to a huge audience of prospective shoppers. The ultimate sampling opportunity for brands though would add in the missing human touch left behind at the beauty counter. Samples shared, not by UPS, but by a no-pressure brand ambassador, can give women (and brands) everything they want.  A handy sample to take home, and an impactful, personal connection with a knowledgeable representative. Each can amplify the other to provide the strongest consumer experience and encourage long-term brand loyalty.

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