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‘Buy’ a product for free at new Dubai store

Do you want to sample a product before you decide to spend money on it? A newly-opened store, where you can ‘buy’ a product for free, seems to have taken the concept of tryvertising to a different level

  • JUST TRY: Anthony James, Founder and Global Chief Executive of Sample Central, showing the products at the stoImage Credit:
  • Sample this: James showing exercise machines that customers can try at the storeImage Credit:
  • The launch: Shoppers explore different products on display at Sample Central storeImage Credit:

Dubai: If you like the idea of buying things and not paying for them, then try this whole new shopping experience that thrives on ‘tryvertising’.

The concept — try before you buy — has been there for a while, as with perfume or taste tests, but the newly-opened Sample Central at Dubai Festival City seems to have taken it to a different level.

The colourful, brightly-lit, 80,000-square-foot store, which blends try-before-you-buy with brand advertising, is one of its kind in Dubai as people here don’t use cash at the checkout counters.

It’s the latest in a network of Sample Central outlets launched in Japan in 2007 and now found in 20 countries.

“There’s a growing group of experienced consumers who have become immune to traditional advertising,” says Anthony James, Founder and Global Chief Executive of Sample Central.

A customer cannot just walk into the store, though. One has to fill out an online membership form at the store front. After the membership card is printed, the check-in staff scans it. You are then led to a glass door which opens to the store (future store visits can be booked only through this portal).

I filled out a complimentary bronze membership form (valid for one year and costs Dh100) and decided to experience the concept of tryvertising (the store already has 2,000 members).

As the walls, videos, audio systems, etc, splashed subliminal advertisements, I saw a coffee machine, a power tool, computers, cup noodles, soda products and personal hygiene items -- all on ‘trial’. I ‘bought’ eight products: Organic body soap, a hydrating/anti-itch cream, a two-litre liquid laundry soap, a moisturiser, a pack of chips, two six-pack sodas, pizza-flavoured chips and a razor pouch. When I checked out these products, no money changed hands. Upon reaching home, I opened an e-mail which helped me interact with the store.

That’s when I found that nothing’s for free — I had to fill out survey forms drawn up by the brand owners for me to be able to visit the store again. The questions were rather simple, so I was done in no time for most of the products I tried. (I haven’t ‘paid’ for them all — customers are given around two weeks to evaluate each product).

However, one should ask: if they give away products, how do they make money? Well, there’s a membership fee and the brand owners pay for the space they occupy within the store. The rest of it is a closely guarded company secret.

Inside, you’re given two hours to shop for things you want to try at home. There are items like exercise machines or massage chairs that customers can also try in the store. “Based on survey data, we’ve found that 70 per cent of our customers actually buy the product after trying it,” said James.

The 15-minute massage on a bulky chair with a Japanese-sounding name was great. I nearly fell asleep. In fact, I didn’t know this product even existed and wanted to buy it there and then, but it would’ve cost me dearly. If you’re happy with the Dh1 or Dh2 massage on a faux-leather chair parked in some mall corner, then you ain’t seen nothing yet.


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