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Thu, Jun 26, 2014
Urban, The Straits Times
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Excuse me, may i have a sample?
by Stacey Chia

Ever wanted a skincare sample, but felt too embarrassed to ask for a freebie at a beauty counter?

Well, don't be. And you don't have to buy anything first either.

Over four days last week, Urban collected about four months' worth of samples - 136 pieces - from 21 mass and premium skincare brands, just by asking for them.

Most were in sachets which would yield about two uses, but some brands, such as Chanel and South Korean brand Dr.Jart+, gave out small tubes of moisturisers which would last about five days - handy for a short getaway.

Estee Lauder gave out a week's supply of its best-selling Advanced Night Repair serum, while Lancome supplied a week's worth of samples of its best-selling Advanced Genifique serum. And while many brands carry samples just for their bestsellers and new products, some, like Clarins, could give us a sampling of almost all their products.

However, it is true that some brands were fussier than others about giving out freebies.

The more upmarket companies, such as Clarins, Lancome, La Mer and Lab Series, required us to leave our particulars so they could record the samples which had been given out.

A short consultation and explanation about the product being sampled would then follow.

Some brands admitted they take particulars to prevent "over-sampling".

"We are able to refer to our records to prevent multiple redemptions," says a spokesman for men's skincare brand Lab Series.

At Lab Series, customers are given samples only after they have had a skin analysis, using a device to evaluate their skin type so that the appropriate samples can be given.

According to the spokesman, a sales staff will call customers a week later to get feedback on the products.

Likewise, at La Mer, calls will be made within three days to ensure that customers are "using the sample properly and that they are satisfied", says a La Mer spokesman.

But the majority of brands, including Philosophy, Shu Uemura and Shiseido, readily handed us samples without asking for anything in return. In particular, the more affordable South Korean brands seemed to give them out like flyers.

At the South Korean brand Belif store in Wisma Atria, customers could help themselves to samples from a small basket on a counter filled with the brand's The True Cream gel moisturiser and First Aid 360 eye mask. A sales assistant also gave out sachets of the products at the door. About 80 sachets are given out daily, a Belif spokesman tells Urban.

A few doors away at Thefaceshop, staff were handing out sachets of its Chia Seed moisturiser and CC cream to shoppers as they streamed by on a busy Saturday afternoon.

South Korean brands are well known for their generosity and they say this has nothing to do with competition. It makes good business sense - not to mention effective advertising - to let customers try the products for free first and, if they like them, they would return to buy them.

At most shopping outlets in Seoul, it is not uncommon to see brands handing out travel-sized tubes and individually packed sheets of masks without anything being bought first.

A spokesman for Korean brand Dr.Jart+ says although it does not take down customers' details, sales promoters are trained to identify consumers genuinely looking to buy something. They tend to be those who "are able to communicate their skincare concerns and pose effective questions", she says.

Giving out samples may not be a new marketing tool, but brands say it remains an important one, contributing to healthy sales figures.

For the 163-year-old Kiehl's, more than 10 per cent of customers who receive samples return to make a purchase within nine months.

It has a registration system to track which samples have been given out.

"It's important that customers can try the products to test for sensitivity and to allow them to see results before committing to buying," says a Kiehl's spokesman.

At Thefaceshop, about 30 per cent of people will return to buy a product after getting a sample. This figure was obtained by asking customers at the point of sale how they had learnt about the product.

The brand gives out about 800 samples a month - a figure which has grown over the years. "With the popularity of all things Korean - skincare, music and television dramas - more people have asked about our products," says a spokesman for Thefaceshop.

Mr Douglas Gan, owner of beauty sample business VanityTrove, has noticed that beauty brands have stepped up their game where samples are concerned. For $25 a month, subscribers get a box of eight samples of beauty products every month.

"When we first started VanityTrove about two years ago, we could see many beauty brands struggling to produce miniatures and travel-sized samples for consumers. Today, almost all the beauty brands we work with have those sizes," he says. VanityTrove works with brands such as Bobbi Brown, La Mer, Shu Uemura and Benefit.

He says that to engage customers, brands could offer bigger samples to entice them to visit the counters.

The generosity of skincare brands at beauty counters comes as a surprise to shoppers such as Ms Teo Soo Yee, 34. The teacher, who uses products from Clarins, Lancome and Sulwhasoo, usually bases her purchases on online reviews.

"I'm hesitant to ask for samples because I'm afraid to be seen as a cheapskate," she admits.

Ms Maggie Chua, 54, who helped Urban put the brands to the test, says she, too, did not expect brands would part with samples so readily.

"I didn't have to give an explanation about why I wanted a sample and they didn't try to sell me anything," says the tutor, who got samples from L'Occitane, The Body Shop and Estee Lauder.

Ms Catarina Yip, 31, a secretary, says companies who give out samples are actually offering better service.

"I've bought cleansers which aren't suitable for my skin and I ended up wasting them. Perhaps I should ask for samples before I buy anything next time," she says.

So, go ahead, don't be shy, especially if you are a loyal customer or a potential one.

As the Urban test found out, sales assistants were more than happy to give out samples to customers who seemed familiar with the brand. 


Stacey: While browsing at the Aesop counter at Tangs Orchard, a sales staff approached me and asked if I needed help. I asked about cleansers for combination skin.

I let him try various cleansers on my hand and listened to him talk about the ingredients in the products before asking for a sample.

Showing interest in the brand paid off. I went home with four 1.5ml sachets of the Fabulous Face Cleanser and Purifying Facial Cream Cleanser, which could last me about four days.

Estee Lauder

Stacey: In less than a minute of arriving at the Estee Lauder counter at Metro Paragon, I walked away with five sachets, or a week's supply, of the brand's best-selling Advanced Night Repair serum, which I had specifically asked for.

The sales staff also taught me how to make the packets last longer, by sealing the opening with some tape and storing it in the refrigerator.


Stacey: At the Clarins counter in Tangs Orchard, I asked for a moisturiser which would not be too oily for daily use.

The sales staff let me try the Multi-Active Day cream. After the five-minute demonstration in which she did not once try to make a sale, I asked for a sample and she gave me a 5ml tube of the cream.

She also handed me another product, the Multi-Active Night cream, to try. I had to fill out a form with my contact details.


Stacey: At the brand's Metro Paragon counter, I asked for samples of the Advanced Genifique serum, and was asked to fill out a form with my contact details.

I was then handed a week's supply (seven sachets) of the serum, three sachets of the Advanced Genifique eye cream and a brochure on the Advanced Genifique range of products.


Justyn: At the Philosophy booth in the Sephora outlet in Ion Orchard, I told the sales staff that I was looking for something for my oily and blemish-prone skin.

He started off friendly, recommending a cleanser and moisturiser. But when I asked for samples, he became less forthcoming.

Still, he gave me one small container of cleanser and another one filled with lotion but they were not labelled and he did not tell me how to use them.

Lab Series

Justyn: At the outlet in Ion Orchard, I was given a free skin consultation and recommended a cleanser, toner and moisturiser, which would have come to $150.

I told the sales staff it cost too much and asked for samples. She had samples for only the toner, which she willingly gave. I had to fill out a form with my contact details.


Justyn: I visited the Chanel counters in Takashimaya Department Store at Ngee Ann City and Robinsons in Raffles City, asking for anti-ageing skincare recommendations for my 54-year-old mother.

The Takashimaya outlet had run out of samples, but at Robinsons, I was given a 5ml bottle of the Sublimage moisturiser and essence each, along with a brochure of the Sublimage skincare range.


Justyn: At the Kenzo counter in Robinsons at Raffles City, I told the sales staff I was looking for anti-ageing skincare for my mother.

She recommended a specific range and I asked her for samples.

She gave me a 2ml bottle of Belle De Jour White Lotus Serum, a 3ml bottle of Belle De Jour Angel Eyes cream, and her namecard with her contact details, so I could call to reserve a set if I wanted to.


Justyn: After finding out about the brand's products which could address my oily and blemish-prone skin, I asked the sales staff at the Ion Orchard store if he had any samples which I could try.

I was asked to provide my contact details. I was then given a 5ml sachet of lotion, a 3ml sachet of cleanser and a 3ml sachet of toner.

Biotherm Homme

Justyn: After a thorough skincare consultation at the Biotherm Homme outlet in Ion Orchard, the sales staff recommended me a whole set of products - a cleanser, toner, serum, moisturiser and sunblock - which costs $307.

I told him they were too expensive and asked for samples. He seemed to be expecting that question. After I had filled out my contact details, he gave me three sets of Aquapower cleanser, toner and moisturiser; a 1ml sachet of sunblock and four 1ml sachets of Life Plankton Essence.


Justyn: I went to the Jurlique store in Ngee Ann City and asked for samples of anti-ageing skincare for my mother.

The sales staff readily gave me two 2ml sachets of the Purely Age-Defying Facial Serum, along with advice on how to use it.

Shu Uemura

Stacey: Both the Isetan Scotts and Takashimaya Department Store counters had run out of the brand's best-selling cleansing oil, the Skin Purifier High Performance Balancing Cleansing Oil, which I wanted.

However, I was able to pick up two 4ml sachets of it at the Robinsons Orchard counter from the friendly sales staff.

Dr. Jart+

Stacey: At Guardian Plus in Takashimaya Shopping Centre, which carries the South Korean brand, I told the sales staff I had heard good reviews about the brand and wanted to try its bestsellers.

She was all smiles and handed me two sachets of the brand's BB cream, one sachet of its Ceramidin moisturiser and a tube of its V7 Relief Vita Drop moisturiser.


Stacey: Like most South Korean skincare brands, the sales staff at Belif handed out samples at the door to entice customers to walk in.

I received a sachet of the First Aid 360 Eye Care Mask and a sachet of The True Cream moisturiser.

This article was first published on June 6, 2014.
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