Reciprocity and the Psychology of Why Samples Sell

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Woman holding up a sample tray of cheese with little medical toothpick flags sticking outIn the retail world, it’s easy to find free or low-cost samples of goods, services, and the ever-popular taste-test of (a new flavor) bacon-infused crispy chip. Beyond the wall of healthcare marketing, reciprocity and the psychology of samples, test bits and trial models have a long and successful history.

Retailers know that giving away a little bit of something (an in-store nibble of food, for example) can almost magically open the door to an immediate product purchase, and a longer term lift in sales performance. In some instances, samples dramatically boosted sales as much as 2,000 percent. [Supermarket News]

Some healthcare providers resist, and wonder: “Why should I give anything away for free.” Admittedly, the merchandising concept isn’t an instant transfer to healthcare. Every practice situation is unique, and you’ll need some creative adaptation. Your test-drive, taste-test “sample” can become an experience, an event or some form of information or education.

Reciprocity and other reasons why samples sell…

Understanding the psychology of why samples sell, can help you discover how and where the concept might apply in your office.

The Law of Reciprocity. This psychological foundation is a human trait that’s built into nearly everyone. We feel an obligation—often a strong feeling—to do something in return when someone has done something for us. There is a tendency to give something back, buy something in return, or feel a pending obligation.

A sample reduces risk. It’s natural to fear the unknown, even when the perceived risk is small or imagined. A test drive or a “brief peek” raises awareness, transforms the unfamiliar and reduces risk. A healthcare environment is often stressful. Familiarity can lower anxiety. Depending on the nature of the sample, an individual could be relieved to meet, and feel they already know, providers, staff and others.

People are inclined to buy with others around. The samples-to-sales process works better when other people are around. The presence of others reinforces reciprocity. Studies suggest that the awareness of others creates “a degree of social pressure to make a post-sample purchase.” [BFJ]

The big picture goal is a relationship…

Providing a sample in some form inspires a near-term purchase. But the higher-level objective of reciprocity is to create a continuing customer relationship, brand loyalty and future purchases.

For hospitals and healthcare providers, the concept of samples translates into a consultation, medical screening, educational or training devices, in-office presentations, webinars, podcasts, ebooks or a dozen other useful trial slices.

Providing a simple sample—either as a test experience or as a bit of service or information—is a cost-effective strategy. “Doing something in return,” does more than foster additional purchases and referrals. The continuing relationship opens the door to brand loyalty, removes the mystery, educates and informs, and identifies qualified prospects.

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