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Costco shoppers come for the bargains -- and the samples

Nataly Gold, Sivan Gold, and Anna Rodriguez shop at a Costco store.

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKISHere's a marketing tactic big in supermarkets and at the warehouse clubs: food that you can try before you buy. But when some people eat those free samples, they're not thinking about buying the product. They're thinking about having a second helping.

From Denver, Zachary Barr has the story.


ZACHARY BARRThere's so much free food at Costco, it helps to go in with a strategy. Here's Matt Hannan.

MATT HANNAN: Start with the meats and cheeses and work my way down to the drinks.

Hannan's at the rotisserie chicken and provolone cheese cart. So I assume this is his first stop. I tell him that clear on the other side of the store, there's free jello.

HANNAN: Already had some.

And then he tells me about another spot he's already visited:

HANNAN: There's a fella over there with some kind of soda that is really good. So I'll probably wander back for some of that.

You see, Hannan's well into his sampling circuit. He says he routinely circles the store, eating seconds -- and thirds. But he doesn't stop at every station.

HANNAN: I'm not a very picky eater but some of the stuff in the health food section I'll avoid.

Kay Wilson runs the food demo program for Colorado Costcos. She says people do like the junkier foods best, cookies and candy in particular. And for very hungry shoppers like Matt Hannan -- she has a message.

KAY WILSON: We want them to have all they want. There's no overindulging. If you're going to buy 10 pounds of something, you want to make sure it's something you're going to consume.

Giving out samples is part of Costco's business model, says supermarket analyst David Livingston. He notes other profitable grocers do it, too.

DAVID LIVINGSTON: There's just a high correlation with successfully run supermarkets and sampling.

Livingston points to Whole Foods and Trader Joes.

LIVINGSTON: And these two chains are probably two of the highest sales per square foot supermarkets in the United States.

So why doesn't every store do it? Livingston says a supermarket needs to have extra money and be certain that shoppers will like the food they're eating.

In Denver, I'm Zachary Barr for Marketplace.

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One - It gets you in the store. I know I plan my trips to Costco around when they are going to have samples out. Two - I spend longer in the store, and tend to wander so I end up spending more. Three - If I am going to buy that 10 pound wheel of cheese, I want to make sure I will like it. Samples make me more willing to pull the trigger on a purchase that I might not otherwise want to risk.

I agree that the vendors fund the sampling efforts, very wise of Costco. I do not believe that it adds 5 - 10% to the cost. Just not possible based on the relation of sales to cost of sampling.

I think it is a great strategy. It adds to the aura of Costco. I always end up buying more while I am there.

Giving out free samples is NOT part of Costco's business model. They don't pay a cent for these samples! All of the vendors pay for the entire thing. And believe me, the cost is built into the price of the merchandise---making your products cost 5-10% more than they would have otherwise. So, think some more before you decide how happy you are about the free samples ;) Wouldn't you rather save even more?

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