In recent years, product samples have increasingly influenced full-size purchases, especially in China’s beauty sector. A recent report from China’s e-commerce giant JD.com (京东) and Economic Daily (经济日报) highlights a surge in product sample sales within China’s consumer market. Online sales of sample-sized products in the first half of 2023 are 2.1 times higher than the same period in 2019, with total sales tripling. Meanwhile, the average price has dropped by 20%.
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Other than beauty samples, sample-sized products of personal care, maternal and baby care, household cleaning supplies, food and beverages, as well as pet care are also showing strong growths in sales. China’s beauty and personal care market combined are estimated to generate a total revenue of 60 billion US dollars in 2023 and continue to grow at a CAGR of 5.03% till 2028, which implies a strong future potential for the product sample market to grow. Therefore, it is key for brands and marketers to identify and understand the growing demand for samples and travel-sized products from Chinese consumers to stay on top of trends.
Understand where consumers learn about product samples
In order to understand the motives and behaviors behind product sample purchasing decisions among Chinese consumers, it is important to know from which channels Chinese consumers tend to obtain relevant information on this. For example, on the Chinese video-sharing site Bilibili, users can find plenty of tutorial videos on how to find sample-sized products of high-end brands as well as pitfalls to avoid before purchasing product samples.
In a highly popular cosmetics sample video by Chen Chifan (陈吃饭_) on Bilibili, she shared one of her most satisfying sample purchasing experiences at a Taobao store where she first bought Helena Rubinstein black bandage cream samples. After applying the sample for two days on her face, half of her pimples and acnes were gone, which led to her purchase a full-sized cream. In the same video, she recommended ten Taobao stores that specialize in cosmetics product samples. Beyond Bilibili, consumers can also easily find posts on product samples on RED (小红书) and other Chinese social media.
Online and offline channels for Chinese consumers to access product samples
Aside from these “independent” sample shops, consumers often have the chance to get product samples through brands’ online store membership pages. However, whether a free sample is provided before making a purchase usually varies depending on the brand. Instead, on Taobao’s channel “U先试用,” consumers can easily access a variety of selective collections of product samples usually at a price from 4.9 RMB (0.67 US dollars) to 14.9 RMB (2.04 US dollars), mostly beauty and personal care products such as face serums, face masks, travel-sized shampoo, and face tissues. Apart from priced samples, there is also another banner on the same channel where consumers can apply for free samples. In exchange, consumers are expected to provide feedback on the product within 10 days after receiving the samples. A similar channel can be found on JD.com as well.
In addition to online platforms like Taobao and JD.com, there has also been a surge of offline stores in recent years including Harmay (话梅), Haydon (黑洞), Wow Colour, and The Colorist (调色师) that are beauty retailers focused on product samples mainly. In 2021, Tmall opened a sampling pop-up store in Hangzhou. Before long, the samples from brands like DECORTÉ and Helena Rubinstein, among others, flew off the shelves, illustrating the high demand for these trial-sized products and the success of the innovative approach.
An important marketing tool for brands to expand their target audience
Nowadays, Chinese consumers have turned more rational in in recent years. This shift has led to an increased interest in consumption downgrade (消费降级), minimalism, and similar concepts. Therefore, providing the option to purchase samples has proven to be a savvy move for brands. This strategy not only helps brands reach a broader potential audience and hold onto their current customer base but also achieves this with minimal customer acquisition costs. Moreover, this approach aids brands and marketers in boosting social engagement by offering complimentary samples in exchange for feedback, particularly from new customers.
A high-end experience with lower costs
While undeniably advantageous for brands, product samples are also providing a range of benefits to Chinese consumers. This rings especially true for high-end brands, which were traditionally seen as beyond the reach of individuals with limited purchasing power. Now, thanks to product samples, these brands are more accessible to this demographic. However, this accessibility poses both positives and negatives for luxury brands due to their exclusive nature. To some extent, it has also mitigated the risk of committing to full-sized products that might later prove unsuitable. This consideration has gained significant importance among Chinese consumers, aligning with the rise of rational consumption in recent years.
Rural consumers and post-90s generation drive sample sales
According to JD.com’s recent research, the post-90s generation made up 52% of total sales for sample-sized products in the first half of 2023, with the post-80s generation responsible for 27% of sales. Therefore, the post-90s and post-80s generation are the main target consumers of China’s samples market. The generation born after the 00s, however, accounts for only 13%, implying relatively low demand for product samples as well as a possibly limited budget. Nonetheless, there’s an optimistic view for their future spending capacity. As more of these individuals complete their education and enter the workforce, their purchasing power is likely to grow.
Regarding geographical distribution, urbanites in Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities are the main consumers of samples in China. Nevertheless, sales in Tier-4 and below experienced the fastest growth. This shift underscores the importance of recognizing and capitalizing on the potential within China’s evolving “sinking markets.”
How to leverage China’s samples market
- The growing demand for product samples in some of the main consumption sectors of China is showing optimism in continuing growth in sales for brands in these fields in the next few years.
- Therefore, it is important for brands and marketers to understand product samples as a marketing tool to keep potential and existing consumers engaged as well as retain and expand their audience.
- However, facing a potential decline in consumption, it is also crucial for brands to come up with innovative ideas to further boost the sales of product samples and possibly convert such leads to full-size purchases.
- Meanwhile, since China’s samples market is still maturing, being aware of the counterfeits in the market is also of importance for brands as it can potentially be quite detrimental to the reputation of the brands.