The beauty industry has seen a revolution in the ways brands communicate, market and sell, as online shopping and social media have shifted interactions out of physical stores and changed traditional routes to brand awareness. The habits and preferences of consumers are changing, too. Having greater access to information enables informed choices based on research into ingredients; online shopping to cater to increasingly time-poor lifestyles; and bloggers, vloggers and influencers to provide a new source of expertise and guidance.
However, this virtual environment, makes sampling a vital tool for the beauty industry more than ever. "The one thing you can't do online is smell, touch or feel," says Mark Lockyer, commercial director of Sampling Innovations Europe. Beauty brands are, therefore, increasingly adopting the practice of adding samples to online orders.
In addition, the rise of online shopping means the role of a physical store needs to be redefined. "There has to be a whole journey, an experience - a reason why you go to the store, speak to the staff and interact with the brand," Lockyer adds. "I think sampling will be - and should be - absolutely crucial to that."
Sampling Innovations Europe, first established in the UK in 1987, and now with additional locations in Spain and France, offers solutions to brands that are navigating this new retail environment. "We provide a consultative, proactive approach to offer brands something that's going to help them stand out in an ultra-competitive market," Lockyer explains.
He highlights the rise of Self Sampling as a significant new development. The company's automated system dispenses samples on request, providing an easy and intuitive method of trying a new product in the often complicated and crowded environment of a fine-fragrance hall. "It creates awareness, store impact and theatre; helps improve the store retail environment; and adds another little reason why people might come into store," Lockyer says. Sampling Innovations Europe worked with fragrance house Puig to place self-sampling systems in Barcelona Airport that allow travellers to try new Paco Rabanne scents.
Online, complementary samples provided at the checkout enable consumers to explore a range they are already aware of, creating brand loyalty. Lockyer states, "That's become a much bigger area in sampling", while traditional mass-market sampling via magazines, direct mail or events still remains a profitable way to generate brand awareness.
Sampling Innovations Europe works with clients to identify the most suitable format throughout the production process. "Full service is a really key part of what we do," Lockyer says. In addition to manufacturing and filling samples at their factory near Barcelona, the company provides packaging specifications and technical design, and collaborates with creative agencies on the production of final artworks.
Sampling Innovations Europe provides miniatures, travel sets and individual retail items, such as face masks, as well as sampling solutions, including vials, sachets and labels. "Because we have such a wide range of options, it's about identifying what we feel is most relevant for our client and guiding them through the journey to deliver the best possible sample," Lockyer highlights.
In addition to the increasing personalisation of beauty, he points to environmental issues as a key development in the industry. There is a great deal of investment currently to improve material choices and recyclability, while it also true that by allowing consumers to try before buying, sampling reduces poor purchasing decisions, and wastage of a product and its packaging. In the longer term, Lockyer believes that water will become an increasingly precious commodity, and beauty brands may look to reduce the water content of their products and the size of packaging. They may even choose to sell dehydrated products that consumers mix with water at home. Sachets and sample-type products could well be integral to this and Sampling Innovations Europe will be at the forefront of these advances. "Innovation is in our name," he says.