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Costco samples are back – sort of. Makeup samples as we know them may never return. So what are brands and shoppers to do, when it’s no longer possible to take part in the age-old retail tradition of trying out a new product at a sample station, and scoring a free coupon to buy a full-sized version at a discount?

One company has a potential solution – move the whole process online.

Natural skin care company Reviva Labs held its very first Virtual Zoom Demo last week, and plans a second one later this month, and a third in September. Since you can’t go to a store right now to get a sample, a demonstration and a coupon – the sample, demonstration and coupon will come to you.

Participants can sign up in advance to have four product samples sent to their homes. Registration costs $5, but there are coupon codes available at stores “where you shop regularly for Reviva Labs” that will make registration free. On the day of the virtual demo, a Reviva expert “will walk you through each product, explain its benefits, and offer guidance on how to use the demo products in your daily skin care regimen.”

And then you get a coupon mailed to you. It’s just like visiting a sample station at your favorite store – without ever having to leave home.

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“After COVID-19 shut down our in-store demo program, we were looking for a solution to keep our products in front of consumers,” Reviva Labs President Bill Levins said in a statement. Getting their customers engaged online is one way to do it. But encouraging them to visit stores before and after the virtual sampling session is important, too. “Just like with our in-store demos we want to keep Reviva’s retailers engaged in the process,” said Reviva Labs’ VP of Sales Jeri Trachtman. “That’s why coupon codes that make the tickets free are available at retailers and why we’re sending out manufacturer coupons to be used in store after the demos.”

The idea of Zoom demos “may not be 100% original,” Reviva Labs admits. But it says sending out actual product samples beforehand, and sending out coupons afterward, makes it the closest thing to the in-person sampling, demonstrating and couponing experience – which may not return to your favorite stores in quite the same way we’re used to, if it returns at all.

Costco was first and most famously affected in the early days of the pandemic, when it shut down its popular sampling stations. After months without freebies, samples slowly began returning to some stores in June, but “it’s not going to be where you go and just pick up an open sample with your fingers,” Costco Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti explained. Instead, all samples are individually packaged, and set up by employees positioned behind plexiglass shields.

Beauty and personal care brands are expected to follow a similar path. “Expect an increase in individual, pre-packaged samples,” Allure magazine reports. At the beauty store Sephora, for example, “customers will no longer be able to pick up and touch testers or apply product to themselves.” Instead, shoppers will get their own single-use sample packs, or no samples at all, as stores and brands push virtual sampling, where you can use an app to see how you’ll look in different shades.

And if there are any fears about distributing or accepting coupons with your free samples, there are always “virtual” coupons, too. Along with Costco, BJ’s Wholesale Club also temporarily stopped offering food samples back in March. At the same time, they stopped accepting and offering paper coupons, going all-digital indefinitely.

So your free samples, and coupons, may look different than they did pre-pandemic. But Reviva Labs hopes its virtual events make the process as normal as possible. “If the program is as successful as anticipated, we’re already planning to add more events,” Reviva’s Director of Education and Training Nancy Reimer said. So sign up if you’re interested, then you, too, can enjoy your samples and coupons – from the comfort of your very own home.

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