Sample Lab opened its Lcafe in Tokyo to reach Japanese women with information about new products.
It works as follows: Lcafe, customers register via mobile phone by providing their personal information (age, birthday, marital status). To become a member, they do not need to give their real name or exact address.
Once registered, the customers get tokens based on the amount of food or drink they ordered. They take their tokens to a brightly lit "sample bar" were they use them to get samples.
Registered members also get a barcode that shows up on their mobile phone. This serves as a membership ID, but also helps Sample Lab track who got what sample.
Sample Lab later sends out questions to see how a member liked a particular item. Those who answer the electronic survey get extra tokens for more samples.
Within the first two months, the café has more than 2,000 registered members. Offered samples were Refresh Time, a vitamin-infused drink by House Wellness Foods Corp.; pretzel sticks with flavors such as cheese, apple or tomato; and assorted skincare products.
This new trend was triggered by the economic turndown. Japanese advertisers are looking at new options to make their advertising more effective. They are turning away from mass promotion such as television ads and glossy magazine spreads that are very expensive. Targeted promotions like samples as more far more affordable and reach the correct customer group.
Yuhi Hori, of the event promotion division of Japan's largest advertising agency Dentsu Inc., agrees. "There is a fresh interest in distributing samples, as technologies using the Internet and mobile phones, which were not available in the past, allow companies to see the impact of sample promotion."
Lcafe reaches its target group perfectly – affluent Japanese women in their 20s and 30s. The café, which serves liquor, is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 a.m. and clearly caters to women. Men are not allowed after midnight during the "Cinderella Time." The ratio of female to male customers is 9 to 1, according to Lcafe.
According to Kouhei Nishida, a manager of business development at Sample Lab, this group was chosen since "women take an initiative in shopping, they spark a trend. These young women can serve as influencers." More importantly, customers like Lcafe. Misako Minami, a 22-year-old college senior said: "It's simple [to register]. I feel value for money because I can get samples of new products while having a meal."
However, Lcafe also has its critics. Hideyuki Suehiro, of Hakuhodo, a major Japanese ad agency, claims that Lcafe lacks a system to encourage customers to spread their café experience through word of mouth (WOM) on the Internet. According to Lcafe, this is easily solved once it expands into other major Japanese cities (Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka) and eventually overseas.
Time will tell if Lcafe remains a local phenomenon, or is starting a global marketing trend….