Sample sales aren’t just for the big boys

For luxury brands, sample sales have been an effective way to free themselves of excess stock. The discounts can be big – up to 90% off. And following 18 months of disrupted trade and leftover stock, small businesses are turning to sample sales, too.
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In London, fashion brand Pink City Prints partnered with a local co-working space to host a sample-sale fundraiser earlier this year. Berlin-based ceramics and homeware brand Onomao ran a three-day sale in the city, offering up to 70% off prices. In July, a group of local fashion brands in Los Angeles banded together to bring customers discounts as high as 85%.    

Why a sample sale?

For small businesses, sample sales aren’t just about shifting old or faulty stock. There’s a really valuable business case to them, says Spandana Gopal, founder of homeware brand Tiipoi. ‘Small brands just can’t afford to get rid of stuff,’ she says. ‘And there are people out there who would be interested in buying a slightly bruised product that is made with the same love and care.’ 

Spandana started hosting online sample sales after finding that she didn’t know what to do with stock that had a slight defect. ‘A lot of research and craft went into these products, but we are also operating to quite robust standards. We had to be prepared to reject items in the quality-control stage.’

What to consider

Sample sales can be challenging to run well, especially when the number of people wanting the items outweighs the amount of stock that’s available. Here are some factors to consider before hosting your own. 

Customer experience. Sample sales haven’t always had the best reputation on this front – picture long wait times and customers elbowing each other out of the way for the best finds. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. Small businesses could experiment with better customer experience by, for example, limiting entry to specific time-slots or offering complementary services while people shop.

Pricing psychology. Conscious consumers will likely question why a brand is able to offer such massive discounts at a sample sale. That’s why being transparent about prices is increasingly important. Lowering prices also shouldn’t make those who’ve paid full price feel alienated, or like they’ve been cheated out of a cheaper product, Spandana adds. 

Location. Location can make or break an effective sample sale, according to B Evans, events manager at the London-based sample-sale venue The Music Room. But investing in a physical venue can be a big risk for a small business. ‘What if nobody shows up?’ Spandana asks. She prefers to run her sales online. ‘As long as you can translate that feeling of being at a yard sale – where there are only a limited number of things that are gone when they’re gone – people will engage.’

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