What Pre-Roll Companies Can Learn from the Costco Sample Model

Uncover the science behind the psychological benefits of samples, insights from sample champ, Costco, and actionable ideas for cannabis companies to boost pre-roll sales and drive brand loyalty.

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From Rotisserie Chicken to Pre-Rolls: The Costco Sample Model’s Lessons for Cannabis Companies

The allure of the free sample is hard to resist. Who doesn’t love free miniature cups of single-serve chips and salsa? The OG of the free sample world is hands down, Costco, which has been reaping the scientifically-proven benefits of free samples for years. Though they are known for their wildly successful membership program and low-pricing driven by massive economies of scale, their free sample game is also undeniable when it comes to increasing sales. 

So settle in with a five dollar Rotisserie chicken while we uncover insights from Costco’s strong sample game and why pre-rolls can act as your company’s little paper cup of goodness that boosts lifetime customer value.

The Psychology of Sample Products

If you’re anything like us, you’ve spent enough time grazing Costco on a Saturday to loosen your belt a notch or two (or three). While you might feel a little guilty, don’t. Those tasty morsels are scientifically proven to make you more likely to buy.

The principal of reciprocity – one of the main psychological benefits of samples – ties into the deep-seated human nature of expecting relationships to be both giving and receiving. Someone gives you something for free, and you are most likely going to feel obligated to provide something in return. For free costco samples, that is often buying an entire box of flautas when you only went to that aisle for cheese. For pre-rolls, that can be a mix-and-match deal on different pre-rolls (both hybrid and infused).

Pre Roll Cone Filling Machines

Curiosity Kills the Cat, But It Boosts Sales

Using samples is like a cheat-code for tapping into some of the most innate human traits – like curiosity. Mario Livio, astrophysicist and author of the book, The Science of Why, says that curiosity comes in two different “flavors.”  On the one hand, you have Perceptual Curiosity when something differs from your expectations or existing knowledge. On the other hand, you have Epistemic Curiosity which drives us to make scientific discoveries, create art and learn new things. 

Cannabis consumers are all too familiar with the downsides of pre-rolls – canoeing, clogging, and harsh resin-soaked crutches – but by offering a joint experience that defies these expectations and provides a new experience, brands can tap into both Perceptual Curiosity and Epistemic Curiosity at the same time. 

No Risk, All Reward

Trying a sample product also reduces the perceived risk of purchasing a new brand or type of strain they haven’t tried before. Customers can test out a product without committing to a whole eighth or quarter, making them feel more confident in their decision at the same time. Many people come into a dispensary with a set spending limit, so something that isn’t going to risk them getting the initial product they want will seem like a no-brainer.

The Art of the Upsell: Maximizing Pre-Roll Sales Through Budtender Engagement

Successfully sampling products makes budtender education becomes essential. Promoting a sample product gives budtenders an opening to engage customers about a specific strain and guide them towards a joint recommendation or if they already know what they want, then mention the pre-roll sample or deal as an “oh and by the way…” option.

Make sure budtenders selling your product know what makes a particular strain stand out and the effect you feel. Provide samples of their own to take home and try, and provide them with three key bullet points for each strain (and each product for that matter). Find out what they think of it and why it’s ideal for specific customer preferences. 

Budtenders have to sell hundreds of products, so making your pre-rolls easy to remember with the people selling your product will go a long way in making recommendations to every customer.

Actionable Ways to Use Pre-Rolls as Samples to Drive Sales

Penny pre-roll deals aren’t new to anyone reading this article. Still, this old standby utilizes the same psychological power as shots of paper cups of Bitchin’ Sauce without the added danger of flouting public consumption bans and local regulations. It works because it utilizes the same sample psychology that Costco uses. Here are three actionable ideas that utilize sample psychology that you can use on platforms like Weedmaps or Leafly.

Automated Pre-Roll Machine

New Strain Saturdays: The Best Day of the Week?

Are there better days to get samples? It’s complicated. Ultimately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, and depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

One study published in the Journal of Retailing found that offering free samples on weekends can be more effective than on weekdays, as more people have free time on weekends to meander and try new products. Costco uses the weekends to offer the widest sample options, and is likely your best chance of snagging a quarter of a hamburger. Want to create interest around a new strain? Offering the sampler deal on the weekend will reach a bigger audience and allow you to have more conversations.

Want to drive foot traffic during slower times? Offering sample upsells on those days may be more effective in boosting sales from the irregular purchases that come in during that time and attempt to turn them into repeat buyers.

Ultimately, the only way to know for sure is to test both strategies and measure how the performed against your key benchmarks. You can’t make (good) decisions without data, and looking at what the numbers say should back up all your choices. Data beats emotion.

“Data is the new oil.”

Clive Humby

- Co-Founder of dunnhumby

Behold! The Power of First-Time Customer Bundles

Everyone loves a good bundle deal, especially if it provides perceived value. Think about creating a pre-roll “sampler pack” of your top three joints, a branded lighter, and a discount on the next purchase. This encourages first-time customers to try your products and build brand loyalty by providing value day one. 

The Joy of Sampling: Why Cannabis Companies Should Embrace the Costco Model

There is more under-the-hood of free samples than people realize. Free samples may seem like a benign strategy, but one of the most successful companies worldwide uses the sample to trigger curiosity, drive brand loyalty and customers who are raving fans. With pre-rolls experiencing the most growth out of any product category in 2022, it’s time for operators to explore how they can change the pre-roll experience and give customers a “sample” of your top-shelf strains.  

Want to find out how the RollPros Blackbird joint rolling machine can elevate your pre-rolls? Click here to learn more.