Costco shoppers come for the bargains — and the samples

Marketplace Staff Jan 17, 2011

Costco shoppers come for the bargains — and the samples

Marketplace Staff Jan 17, 2011


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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