x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Try-before-you-buy store Sample Central to open in Dubai

Products given in exchange for reviews as Sample Central hopes to make money from alliances with firms seeking brand awareness

Julien Pascual, of Emiratesavenue, says he has doubts about how soon Sample Central will get products before the Emirates' online and retail stores.Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Julien Pascual, of Emiratesavenue, says he has doubts about how soon Sample Central will get products before the Emirates' online and retail stores.Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Imagine a store where all the goods are free - that is the plan at one shop opening in Dubai this year.

But before shoppers get ready for a supermarket sweep with dreams of filling their trollies to the brim, there is a downside - it is strictly five items or fewer at Sample Central, which will launch in Dubai's Festival City mall in November.

Sample Central is a concept store that has outlets in Europe, Asia and South America, based on the idea of "tryvertising", a form of marketing that lets people try out products before they buy.

Customers become "bronze" members of the store and instead of paying with cash, they pay with their reviews of the products they chose, up to five a day. Bronze members can try out five products each visit. If they visit the store often, they rack up loyalty points, which then lets them become silver members. They can then try out seven products each visit.

The Dubai outlet will have a maximum of 35,000 members, carefully selected so as to represent the demographics of the UAE. Membership will cost Dh100 a year (US$27.26) and allow those who have signed up on www.samplecentral.ae to schedule visits and choose five products among 70 to 100 to review upon each visit.

Seventy per cent of the store will have consumable items such as foodstuff and toiletries while the remaining 30 per cent will house electronics.

Members trying out the electronic devices will be able to do so only in-store, but select members will be given the opportunity to take home devices that have not been released into the mass market yet, in return for more detailed feedback.

Deepak Nayyar, the project manager for the Dubai outlet, explained how the store could particularly help those buying electronics: "They get to know the product, and most certainly, once they're exposed to the new technology, they will be looking for that product at the actual point of sale."

The store will earn most of its revenues from partnerships with companies looking to create more brand awareness around their products while also looking to receive feedback from consumers and focus groups.

One of the popular ways this feedback has occurred in other parts of the world has been from testers writing up blogs or reviews about the products that they have tried.

"We think it is a great thing that people can try things and write reviews, and even for us we then know better what kind of products people will like," said Julien Pascual, the chief executive and founder of the online retailer Emiratesavenue.com.

But Mr Pascual, whose company has had early releases of many electronic products in the UAE including Apple's iPad products, said he had doubts about how soon Sample Central would get products to the Emirates' online and retail stores, which could also allow potential customers to test products in-store, but without having to pay a membership fee.

Nevertheless, Mr Pascual said he still liked the idea and would consider using it as a marketing medium for his business instead of some other alternative marketing approaches, such as websites for group buying.

"They do not offer deals where we can make money or not lose money," he says.

"While for Sample Central the difference is they will actually help us in a way, because people can try these things and then they can buy it from us."

business@thenational.ae