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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. 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.

                                          2. I am so enjoying people's different takes on samples. I for one do enjoy them and like many either would have or wouldn't have bought said items because of tasting at Costco, TJ and WF. I have an executive membership at Costco so I typically go when it opens on weekdays. The sample hawkers aren't even set up for at least the first hour. Try being in Alhambra. Samples or not, no matter what time of day you will have a hard time navigating. Ha Ha. Each store has it's own demographics.

                                            1. One thing I haven't seen anyone here mention is the timing factor, at least for hot food samples. From my experience, the crowds only tend to cluster around the hot stuff. Why? Because if you aren't there right when a hot sample comes out of the pot or toaster over, chances are you're not getting any, at least not for a while due to the preparation time involved. So, for example, when a sampling pizza comes out of the toaster oven, it's cut up and very quickly distributed; then it takes another 10-15 minutes to heat up the next one. And that by itself accounts for the feverish congestion around those particular freebie stands. In contrast, I never see comparable hubbub surrounding the juice or cookie samples.

                                              Personally, I love getting samples at Costco and actually resent those shopping excursions when few are available. To me, samples are a defining element of the whole Costco experience, and I'm glad to see that more stores have begun to follow its example.

                                              1. The samples are one of the fringe benefits of costco membership. I've gone on several occasions, tried just about every sample, and not even had to prep dinner, I had so much to eat! And drink. So much variety, too.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: NewDude

                                                  True story - back in the day when I was a carpenter apprentice, working double shifts to keep a roof over my own head, some days, Costco samples were ALL I had to eat! Whatever they were hawking, I'd eat it and yes indeed, leave very full and happy.

                                                2. The point is to sell and it seems to work. I have noticed many carts with items that were being sampled.

                                                  My guess is the closer the sample to the actual product, the higher the yield. I'm sure there are studies on this, like on all aspects of supermarket design/psychology (I find it very interesting; it stems from my days working at a market in Providence and reading Progressive Grocer magazine).

                                                  1. Thanks to this thread I have it figured out. I needed a Costco trip yesterday, got there a few minutes after 10:00am, no samples, no lines, quick in and out. Perfect Costco trip. BTW their x-mas cookies are pretty good!

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: duck833

                                                      In the UK on a weekday you have to be a trade member to go to Costco before noon.
                                                      To avoid the samples here you'd need to go in the evening (which I normally do), or as soon as they open at the weekend as the samples don't seem to appear for an hour or so.

                                                      1. re: duck833

                                                        No samples before 11am....
                                                        That's when regular NON-Business members have access to Costco on weekdays.

                                                        There would be a poor return on investment setting up sampling displays for business people who are trying to hurry in and out.

                                                      2. Way to look a gift horse in the mouth! The store is giving away stuff for free and the problem is what exactly?

                                                        21 Replies
                                                        1. re: joe777cool

                                                          I agree, it's not like they are chasing you down and forcing anyone to try a sample.

                                                          At my Costco, if there are any samples, people approach the sample table. I like that they
                                                          do at times and at times I pass them by without trying a thing. I never give it a second thought.

                                                          1. re: joe777cool

                                                            The cost of those samples is worked into the purchase price. They're certainly not "free".

                                                            EDIT: If you don't buy them, I guess they're free.

                                                            1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                              You are absolutely wrong. Sampling has nothing to do with the final price. If anything, a product being sampled is going to be discounted in order to push sales. The company I work for samples whenever a new product is introduced. Is there a better way to make people aware of it?
                                                              Costco or any other Grocery does not have anything to do with the process other than supply the space for the sampling. The products are supplied by the vendor and the company doing the sampling is payed by the vendor, not Costco or any other Store.

                                                              1. re: chipman

                                                                While I would agree with your post regarding the effect of sampling on price, the samplers at my Costco are Costco employees

                                                                1. re: Bob W

                                                                  The employees handing out samples work for for Club Demonstration Services. A company now owned by Costco. But they are NOT Costco employees and do not receive the same benefits or pay or answer to managers in the stores.

                                                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                                                    So why are they wearing those Costco vests? The impression is that they are Costco employees.

                                                                    1. re: decolady

                                                                      'wearing Costco vests'
                                                                      The CDS demonstrators are required to wear BLUE APRONS, not vests. Formerly they wore Teal Aprons (changed about 3 months ago.

                                                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                                                        At my Costco (Chantilly VA), I recently noticed the change from Costco plumage to CDS gear.

                                                                2. re: chipman

                                                                  Gee, my friend was the contact person for the samples at a Costco fairly near me for ten years. She told me that overall, the cost of product samples was built into their final cost. Why would she make that up?

                                                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                    Of course the price of samples are included in the final price of the manufacturer. Unless of course this will be the next Enron Accounting scandal. Can't wait to see the Keebler elves taken away in handcuffs and a raincoat over their heads. :-)

                                                                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                      Well, sure. It's a marketing cost and just like advertising, PR and other marketing efforts are worked into the product cost, so is sampling. And like any other marketing effort, it will resonate with some buyers and not with others. They've obviously found that giving away samples in a non-pushy "hey, you sampled, but you don't have to buy anything!" manner will generate sales in an effective manner so that's why they do it. I know I've made some impluse buys after a sample.

                                                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                        I don't know why your friend would say that? But she is mistaken. Really, your friend was in no position to even make that statement, since she didn't even work for the Company who supplied the product.
                                                                        Iike others have said, you could say the cost was built into the marketing cost, but I think that would be a bit overblown. A company will want to sell the product at a certain price point. Whether a product is sampled or not makes little difference.

                                                                        I work for a large National Snack food-Chip Co. Say for example My employer sells Tostitos. They are all priced at $3.99 a bag. If we come out with a new flavor of Tostitos We might sample that one particular variety. It will be the same price as the others.

                                                                        If my company feels we aren't selling enough Tostitos at 3.99 they might lower the price, which we had done in the past.

                                                                        1. re: chipman

                                                                          So you're saying that the sample costs aren't allocated for? That they don't affect the overall cost of the item and that the company is truly giving them away for nothing?

                                                                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                            In the whole scheme of things, the cost of sampling is so minimal considering the total amount of the product sold nationally. For example in my area, we might sample maybe two or three times a year in a limited amount of stores. Each store will get about four cases allocated to them (about 30 0r so bags) Really not that much. Company's will set the retail price at the highest they can and still sell the quantity that will satisfy the sales figures the company wants. The cost of the sampling has nothing to do with the price the Company sets for the product.

                                                                            1. re: chipman

                                                                              Agreed that the cost of sampling is minute, but it's still a cost. The consumer is still paying for it one way or another.

                                                                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                Absolutely on point.

                                                                                years ago jfood was advicing a company that found they could save $1 per unit (a $20,000 per unit business) by switching something. Mutiply by 20MM units and you are talking real money

                                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                                  The cost of the product and the retail price is established long before any decision of sampling is established. If they did not sample, the retail price would still be the hypothetical 3.99. The largest expense our company has is it's labor costs. We are a DSD type Company. Costco on the other hand gets our product direct from our plant. So even though their Cost is less, their retail price is still the same.

                                                                                  1. re: chipman


                                                                                    there is no such thing as a free lunch. Whether you choose to acknowledge that all costs from manufacturing to labor to electricity, etc is included in the pricing decision is completely up to you. jfood has sat in more pricing decision meetings than he cares to remember and all the cost and promotions get discussed and approved. You go over your promotion budget you got some 'splaining to do.

                                                                        2. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                          It's not as simple as just increasing the cost of the product. Think of the supply demand curve--just because your costs go up, doesn't mean the market will bear that added cost. Raise the price, your demand goes down. Theoretically, the cost of the samples is in the cost of marketing which should drive up the demand and in that way, increase profits. In that way, the price is built into the cost of the product but the cost of the product to the company (and its bottom line) and not the cost to the consumer. Having been a business budget analyst in food products, I'd be surprised if most people who weren't involved in the spreadsheets/budget understand how the costs are laid out. In a larger analogy, if you ever watch real estate TV shows, you often see people try to price their house with their costs, but the price of the house doesn't adjust for that. It's basic economics.

                                                                          Oops, just realized this thread is old.

                                                                      2. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                        I understand your point, but if the price for x product is 9.99 the day before, and 9.99 the day x product is being given away as a free sample, the price is fixed if you sample it or not. So if you eat the free samples you are actually getting more product for your money, actually reducing the cost to you, however so slight!

                                                                        1. re: joe777cool

                                                                          I can't even tell you how many products I have purchased there because of sampling there. Or how many items that were sampled are in other peoples carts. I think it's a stroke of genius on their part.