Try before you buy at Sample Central in Dubai

New concept store allows shoppers to take products home to try


If you grew up watching grocery game show Supermarket Sweep, you’ll understand why Festival Centre’s new concept store is enticing Dubai’s savvy savers. The brainchild of Australian entrepreneur and CEO Antony James, Sample Central already has stores in Japan, Brazil and Hungary, but this marks the franchise’s first foray into the Middle East. The idea is simple: shoppers sign up and pay a one-time Dhs100 registration fee, before they book an appointment to visit the store and choose up to five products to take home and sample. All they need to do in return for the freebies is to fill out a survey about the products.

Think of it as smart, targeted market research, explains James. ‘We recognise that consumers want to choose what they want to sample, and they make decisions based on their own experiences with products rather than a brand’s advertising messages,’ he says. ‘We’re all familiar with the old style of “tryvertising”: free shampoo samples given away in magazines, or a point-of-sale promotion stand in a supermarket. The challenge for brands is there’s no guarantee that samples are tried out at the right time, in the right spot, and by the right target audience to influence their purchasing decisions, and getting feedback is difficult.’

Within the Sample Central store, feedback is guaranteed. Up to 80 shoppers can browse the store at any one time; once they’ve chosen their products, they can either fill in the survey in store or at home. And you don’t need to be a whizz with words to get your point across. Each survey is brand-specific, usually multiple choice with about 20 questions that should take between five and 15 minutes to complete.

But before you get all excited about testing posh products and new technology for free, it’s worth noting that the items on offer are usually standard day-to-day items – on our visit we spotted chilli ketchup, laundry detergent, razors, henna hair dye, washing-up liquid and Vichy beauty products. However, completing the surveys earns you points, and accumulating more points enables you to sample more expensive items. There are also high-end products you can try in-store, such as Nikon cameras, hair straighteners and massage chairs.

Consumers are not allowed to test a product more than once, and the stock is updated every two weeks, ensuring a fresh batch of goods every time you visit. And freebies aren’t the only benefit: the system works both ways, giving consumers the skills to make discerning choices when they next visit the supermarket.
See you at the checkout. Registration fee Dhs100. Open daily 9.30am-10.30pm. Festival Centre, Dubai Festival City (800 72659).

Three more innovative Dubai shopping venues

Nomo Boutique
Personalise your own jeans and get scanned in a high-tech changing room to ensure a perfect fit.
Sunset Mall (T04 388 4221).

Puma at The Dubai Mall
This particular store has an app that enables shoppers to design their own sneakers.
The Dubai Mall (04 434 0204).

The Change Initiative
Sells products made from sustainable items. It has a herb garden and a café, plus rooms demonstrating how to live a more eco-friendly life.
Sheikh Zayed Road (800 824).

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