Recently, one of my dissertation students, Essi Porkka at Aalto University of Economics, Mikkeli, Finland and I took on a challenge to answer the question ‘how in-store sampling motivates a consumer in making a final decision?’ We were specifically interested in understanding how in-store sampling can influence choice goals a consumer has and how this in turn will impact the decision satisfaction. To conduct this research specifically chose cosmetics retailing as a context.
The cosmetics industry and in-store sampling
The cosmetics industry has experienced immense growth in recent years, and according to the Global Insight report, the U.S. market is predicted to grow from €47.9 billion to €78.4 billion by 2016. During the years 2007-2012, the global annual growth rate was reported to be 3.2 per cent, and in 2012 the total cosmetics market reached the value of €233.3 billion with a revenue increase of 4.6 per cent. Research also emphasizes that in the U.S. the average spending on cosmetic products is almost the same as on clothing, which further demonstrates the undisputed importance of cosmetics retailing in today’s market place. We know it well that people use cosmetics to feel more attractive, to look their best, and to enhance their appearance. One of the studies on cosmetic consumers found that an average female consumer uses 7.4 products every day. However, the consumption patterns are strongly dependent on different cultures; for example the French tend to spend most on skin care products whereas the German spend primarily on toiletries.
The global rankings of the major cosmetics manufacturers have stayed relatively same over the past few years, and companies such as Procter and Gamble, L’Oréal, Unilever, and Estée Lauder have occupied the top places several years running. Maintaining top-places in the cosmetics market has become extremely challenging due to the intense competition in the industry, and it is therefore crucial to constantly adjust to the evolving trends. Due to this fierce competition, cosmetics industry relies heavily on advertising and promotion. One of the highly used promotion techniques in cosmetics retail is in-store sampling. However, comparatively little is known in terms of how in-store sampling influences consumer decision making process.
Choice goals and decision satisfaction
In this research, we specifically focused on choice goals. Researchers have argued that making a choice requires constructing the information into a preference structure, and consumers’ ability to find a satisfactory strategy is dependent on their capability to process information, the social environment, and the product selection. Furthermore, consumers tend to have goals in terms of what they desire to gain from making a certain choice. Professor Jim Bettman at Duke University suggests that goals define the extent to which an individual is motivated to minimize effort and negative emotions and maximize the choice accuracy and the ease of reasoning the choice. In their research Mark Heitmann, Donald Lehmann and Andreas Herrmann further differentiate choice goals as approach goals that include justifying decisions and increasing confidence, and avoidance goals comprising of evaluation costs, anticipated regret, and final negative affect.
We found some really interesting results. Firstly, we observed that utilitarian motivations such as convenience, information availability and gift-shopping were significant drivers of cosmetics purchase. Moreover, we also found that hedonic motivations such as self-gratification, experience seeking, social interaction and idea seeking were important influencers in driving cosmetics buying. We also observed clear effects of in-store sampling in enhancing choice goal attainment by increasing justifiability and choice confidence and by decreasing evaluation costs, ambiguous social reactions, and final negative affect. We also saw that this effect was further influenced by increase in product knowledge, amount of information, and involvement, and decrease in product complexity and predisposition toward maximizing.