SampleTrend London: Japanese fad for free shopping hits UK high street

Free shopping! Japanese fad for the stores where you don’t pay a penny hits the UKShoppers must pay 60 annual membership to join schemeMembers guaranteed minimum 250 worth of goods every year

A new retail phenomenon from Japan which allows customers to walk away with free products is to launch in Britain.

From tomorrow, visitors to SampleTrend’s central London store can try anything on its shelves, and all of the products can be taken home without charge.

For a nominal annual membership fee of 60, users are free to enter the shop once a month and help themselves to no less than 250 worth of goods every year.

Retail phenomenon: At London

Retail phenomenon: At London”s first SampleTrend, customers pay a nominal membership fee to be able to help themselves to products for free – as long as they fill out a questionnaire

The only ‘catch’ is that shoppers are asked to complete a simple questionnaire about each product they try.

Known as ‘try-vertising’, the concept allows manufacturers to test products and receive consumer feedback before launching onto the open market.

It is already a sensation in Japan and now looks set to transform the fortunes of the embattled UK retail industry.

According to new figures, stores are facing a Christmas crisis with the weakest High Street trading for six months.

Michael Ghosh, the brainchild behind SampleTrend, said: “The concept behind SampleTrend is unique in the UK.

“It allows shoppers the opportunity to walk away with a number of real, full-size products of their choosing without handing over a penny.”

The concept of in-store try-vertising is simple but effective. Businesses across all sectors, from cosmetic manufacturers to beverage makers, place new products on the shelves at SampleTrend and wait for consumers to try them out.

Customers complete a short 10-point questionnaire about the product, and the feedback they provide is used to make any last-minute tweaks before the product is brought officially to market.

The SampleTrend store stocks everything from cosmetics, food and drink, and household goods.

Free for all: Products from all sorts of brands are also given away via the SampleTrend website

Free for all: Products from all sorts of brands are also given away to members via the SampleTrend website

Ghosh, the former advertising and sales director for Disney Europe, said such feedback may also build brand loyalty from the outset – a particularly appealing prospect for new businesses.

“Offering thousands of people a role in developing those products creates brand loyalty that no advertising can,” he added.

“What’s more, it’s significantly cheaper than conventional market research and the feedback from customers is fully objective.

“It’s a win-win, as consumers get to sample completely new products and the feedback forms take only a few minutes to complete.”

The store on Goodge Street will have between 40 and 80 different products at any one time, five of which are to be on offer every month to members.

Members can choose up to five “gifts” per month and are guaranteed a minimum value of 250 worth of goods per year.

The store contains no items with a recommended retail value of less than 2.

Online membership is available for non-London residents, and a one-off “walk-in and buy” option is also available.

Philip Wilkinson, the co-owner of gourmet coffee subscription service, said: “SampleTrend is an ideal platform for us as a brand to reach new customers and evaluate the feedback they provide us.”

Mother-of-three Amy Salmon, 32, was one of SampleTrend’s first members.

She said: “Many of these products have never seen the light of day before, and it’s a fantastic feeling to know that I’m saving money while contributing to what I hope will be better, more rounded product lines.”