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Dec 4, 2009 10:34 AM

Costco 'samples' - why?

First, let me state that I am in the UK. Maybe things are different here. But I don't think so, judging from other threads.
Today at Costco I partook of samples of:
Line caught haddock with (it seemed) a lot of black pepper (hot, fresh cooked, nice)
Strawberry dessert of some kind that was revolting and I tossed the sample after one small bite.
A whisky cocktail including elderlower cordial (too sweet)
A brandy cocktail including ginger wine (quite pleasant)
A coffee liqueur (nasty nasty)
Cinnamon rolls (yum)
Fruitcake (OK)
Coffee (OK but not as good as my usual supplier).
I declined the chicken kiev and cat litter (not sure how one is supposed to sample cat litter, but hey).

My question - what's the point? Are these samples supposed to encourage purchase? None of the 'vendors' made any attempt at selling any product - it was just 'here, have some' (if there was a vendor present at all, which there often wasn't).

So - what's the point? (from their point of view)

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  1. "Are these samples supposed to encourage purchase?"
    theoretically, yes - that's pretty much why they started the practice to begin with. i'm surprised none of them tried to "sell" the items. i was at my local Costco here in California the other day, and all the people offering the samples were hawking their products as if their lives were at stake! i was particularly amused by the "hard sell" i got from the little old man with the display of fruit & nut bars who kept rattling off the ingredient list & all the health benefits :)

    BTW, it's interesting that they were offering liquor samples - i doubt that's even legal here in the States.

    23 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      I won't go to Costco on weekends just because of the people crowding around the sample tables clogging up the ilses. I remember years ago a university did a study and put a sign up on a vacant lot on the Sunrise hwy. on Long Island, all the sign said was "Free". Thousands of cars pulled off the road to see what was free. They even had a few accidents and fights. All ya gotta say is "Free".

      1. re: mrbigshotno.1

        i once got attacked by a woman who thought i was trying to cut in front of her at a Costco sample table...i was simply trying to navigate *around* the congregation of vultures who were blocking the aisle while they waited to pounce on the next batch of whatever the person was preparing.

        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          Things are evidently different here in the UK - I've never even seen a huddle round the samples - there tends to be a table of 10 or so to pick one from as one passes by.
          Then again, I've only been on the weekend a few times.

      2. re: goodhealthgourmet

        Why would alcohol samples be illegal?
        There are very few kids at Costco - in the UK, anyway.

        1. re: Peg

          insurance risk. someone samples the liquor on Costco's property, gets into their car & drives away...and hits someone. hello, lawsuit!

          plus, techincally they'd have to see ID/proof of age from *every* person who asked for a sample.

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            So true goodhealth. And then there is the state of Pennsylvannia. No beer wine or alcohol at Costco or TJs. :( Gotta go to a state store for your booze.

            1. re: givemecarbs

              Same in Maryland :( The first time I went to TJs here I almost cried...

            2. re: goodhealthgourmet

              So that means you are not responsible for your own actions - the person who gave you alcohol is to blame? That's nuts!

                1. re: Peg

                  Welcome to America! The United Nanny States of America, that is '-)

                  1. re: Peg

                    Responsible for your own actions?
                    That would imply that there are such things as accidents.
                    Not in this country. Someone else or something else is ALWAYS to blame.

                  2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    This is probably less of a problem than you might think. As a lawyer, I can tell you that most states have a "Dram Shop" law which limits recoveries against vendors of alcohol to a relatively small amount of money. (In the 1980s, it was $100,000, plus actual damages, in the state where I used to practice. What it is now, I have no idea.)

                    This was put into effect by the liquor store, distillers, and restaurant lobbies for obvious reasons. No doubt that Costco would be covered.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      they do give out free samples of liquor, its a tiny sip, impossible to get drunk, they do card every individual.

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        no difference then going to a bar or club and drinking and getting in to an accident, its the persons responsibility who drank it in the first place.
                        anyhow, they only give out tiny sips when they sample alcohol, and they do card individual. They were sampling beer today.

                      2. re: Peg

                        I live in VA and I've partaked of wine/beer sampling in Trader Joe's. They've had them in Wegman's too. Both are a weekly/monthly event. I've never seen them in Costco. I take very little (a sip) because I am usually driving. I tried some excellent dark TJ beer through sampling. (I'm usually not a fan of beer.)

                        I grew up in PA (no liquor of any kind in the grocery stores). I moved to VA and was astounded at the large amounts of wine/beer in the grocery/drug stores.

                      3. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        In Connecticut, liqour stores may host wine tastings. Costco does this in December for wones and champah=gnes. The liqour store has a separate entrance from the parking lot and as a state licensed department it is open to the public. No liqour may be taken inside the main Costco store,

                        1. re: bagelman01

                          No liquor at all at Costco in Norwalk, B. Gotta get further into the country for that one

                          1. re: jfood

                            Milford has booze......................
                            and Gas

                            1. re: bagelman01

                              Here in Ontario (GTA) there is no beer, booze or even wine.

                              In Indianapolis beer, wine and booze are all in the store beside where the baked goods are kept. The booze is on the last shelf.

                              In Nashville there is a separate liquor store that's part of Costco. Similar to the tire centre. I believe it's the same in Louisville but I haven't been to that one in so long.

                              In Huntsville (Al.) beer and wine are at the back where the baked goods are. No booze.


                              1. re: Davwud

                                I'd only been to the Sam's Club and Costco in Huntsville until just recently when I was in Atlanta. Booze! With no "sin" tax! I stocked up on my favorites and will be going back often.

                                1. re: Davwud

                                  Ack! The mods deleted the other posts! We talked about seasonings and such in that post! It wasn't all booze and fuel!

                                  The Tone's Southwestern Chipotle seasoning was not on the shelf at Sam's Club.

                          2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            Liquor laws (including those regarding sampling) are state by state, jurisdiction by jurisdiction (see the 10th Amendment).

                          3. From 1993 to 2002 I supervised the deononstrators in the 4 Conecticut Costco locations (at that time Costco only owned part of the demo company, they now own it all).

                            Manufacturers pay for the demos, both labor and goods to promote their product. The demonstrators are supposed to SELL, not just give away samples. They are given scripts to learn about product, must have product available for purchase or tell you where it is in the freezer or refrigerator case.

                            The sample size is two bites.

                            Demonstrators are shopped by mystery shoppers employed by 'Caliber' mystery shopping services. They are scored on things such as eye contact, smile, conversation, what they said about the product, special features, benefits, etc. AND most important if the demonstrator urged customers to take home a box, bag, etc, today.

                            Inventory of the particular product is taken at the start of the demonstration and the end, as well as computer record of sales during the period. A demonstrator who does not produce sales will not last long................

                            Similarly, a demonstrator who sells, but fails the mystery shop criteria will be talked to, retrained and reshopped.

                            The demonstration is big business and can make a major change in a products sales. Much is invested and if there is no return, both the demonstrator and product may be made redundant at Costco.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: bagelman01

                              Thanks for the inside story ;)

                              For me I have found some things I never would have purchased b/c of the samples - and sadly some have saved me from returns of items I thought I would like but that tasted awful (or not to my taste).

                              1. re: bagelman01


                                Just wondering why demo company says its not owned by Costco?

                                1. re: belkar1

                                  CDS-Club Demontration Services which does the bulk of the food demos is owned by Costco, BUT--the employees work for that corporation, they are not Costco employees. An indiovidual demonstrator may not even be aware that the corporation they work for is owned by Costco.
                                  Also, There are demos manned by other companies and manufaccturer's personnel (especially roadshows), so ait all depends who you ask.
                                  When I ran the Non-Foods Demonstrations, the company withe the contract was Top Priority Sales from Mountain View California, definitely not owned by Costco.

                              2. I absolutely hate Costco sample days. I come in there to get my stuff and get out. I would never even want to taste one of their samples, where is the sanitation? Where is the the three tub sink? All those folks milling around to grab and sneeze on the food. Yuk!!!!!

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: duck833

                                  Everyday at Costco is a smaple day. Club Demonstration Srvices, has an area/kitchen in the back stockroom that has the requisite three tub sink, Demonstrators wear gloves, customers are urged to take the samples from the tray, never from the demonstrator's hand.

                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                    everyday is a sample day at my Costco too.

                                  2. re: duck833

                                    So who's forcing you to take them, they have samples everyday. Take it or leave it but hate it?

                                    1. re: treb

                                      My observation is that the sampling stations are a daytime feature - about half my trips to the Nashua NH Costco are in the evening, when there are none in sight. Also that the demo staff appear to be mostly retirement-age folks, few of whom are actively promoting sales. They offer samples and answer questions but don't come on strong. I prefer this - after all, the proof is in the pudding. If you taste it and don't like it, no amount of hard sell is going to put a package in your cart.

                                      I try perhaps half of the offerred items and have bought about a third of the items that I do try. Samples are more important in warehouse stores than in regular supermarkets. Most of the brands are not household names and the large sizes = higher package price = customer reticence to try an unfamiliar product.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        At our local Costco (Chantilly VA), where I generally shop on Sundays, the samples come out around 11 and peter out around 4. Here the demo staffers are often folks with a limited grasp of English, so all they say is something like "[Name of product]. Very good. [Aisle x]"

                                        Occasionally we get a real huckster. I prefer the low-key approach. As others have mentioned, if I'm going to buy, say, a three-pound tub of crab salad, the sample better be damned good. Nothing the person says is going to sell that product.

                                        Having said that, we also have some pretty grandiose sample stations set up by the purveyors themselves. Yesterday, for example, David's Cookies had samples of tarts and cheesecakes. The people who man these set-ups are much more knowlegeable about the products being sampled.

                                        1. re: Bob W

                                          "Having said that, we also have some pretty grandiose sample stations set up by the purveyors themselves."

                                          That's kind of a different thing -- it's what Costco calls a "roadshow". For example, every few months here in Las Vegas, Kermanig Bakery comes in from southern CA, and sets up a stand for a few days. They hand out samples of their various products (Armenian flatbreads and Middle Eastern pastries), chat with the customers, and you can purchase a set number of items (mix & match) for a set dollar amount.

                                          In this example, the products are only available when the vendor is there, but that might be because what they are selling is so perishable.

                                          1. re: Steve Green

                                            Yeah, that's the deal. Still, it's part of the sample universe, and a very popular one at that. Around here the coffee purveyors are always very popular.

                                            Our Costco uses the term roadshow (at least in public, on signage) only for the "seafood roadshow," which now seems to appear every weekend even though they make it seem like a special event.

                                          2. re: Bob W

                                            David's cookies always gets me with the samples. Got a favorite this past time, chocolate truffle cheesecake. Good thing they freeze well.

                                          3. re: greygarious

                                            I also frequent Nashua, there are a few young servers but, most are seniors who IMO, need the extra income. They are usually very mild and polite, I've purchased based on tasting a sample. Manufacturers wishing to boost sales go the demo route to promote their product(s) also I see demos when there's a coupon in the Costco booklet. The demo servers usually wrap-up around 4:30 pm daily.

                                            1. re: greygarious

                                              ITA, greygarious, re: reluctance to buy monster package of something only to find you don't like it.

                                              I'm all for samples--I've bought or not bought many times based on both Costco and Tj samples. Even if you don't buy something, that's good for the store in that you don't have a dissatisfied customer returning food that can't be resold.

                                              But I do avoid Saturday shopping because of the sample whores.

                                        2. The original comment has been removed
                                          1. Sample vendors at any store are put there to sell product. At places like Whole Foods, it's often the product creators in there manning their stand trying to grow awareness of what they make. I have a friend who does this with their bottled salad dressing. Today I was at WF, tried some creamy horseradish on smoked salmon i NEVER would have bought (Make own horseradish) but it was SO GOOD and on sale, I bought some. Otherwise, never would have looked twice. It can be a great marketing tool when done right.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Chocolate Toe

                                              You are so right. But beware, some times a bite of two of something enticing doesn't translate as well when you have 3 lbs of it!!!

                                              1. re: Sarah

                                                So true Sarah. I sampled and enjoyed the tortilla soup at Costco a few months ago, but knew I couldn't deal with a huge tub of it.