Would you like some samples? (Part One: The Appetizer)

by PJ on Wednesday, August 29, 2007

in all about Japanese cosmetics, makeup, skincare, What do you think? Beauty topics and thoughts

(Bon appétit!)

(The main course is served tomorrow…)

I guess it is fair to say that we all love freebies. Getting cosmetics samples is a great way to test-drive potential candidates and discover new favorites.

Like return policies (and thank you for all your comments and contributions), I have also observed that the level of generosity when it comes to samples seems to differ from country to country.

In my own experience, sales assistants in Japan seem to be particularly generous.

I had an unforgettable experience when I was in Tokyo. I bought two small travel-size (30ml) Shiseido toners in a drugstore. I didn’t expect to get any sample and I felt embarrassed to ask, since the toners were inexpensive and since the staff so kindly offered to keep and watch over my heavy belongings behind the counter while I was browsing.

But when I showed interest in another Shiseido skincare line (after I paid for my toners), one assistant not only gave me samples of virtually the whole line of about 15 products but also taped all of them, one by one, next to where they appeared on the product brochure (so I wouldn’t mess up the routine due to my lack of competence in Japanese).

Well, in a way, she didn’t achieve her purpose (of having me try more of their products) at all, because the brochure and samples have been kept untouched as a souvenir. (I wish I had a photo to show you! It is quite a sight.) But this level of patience and service has impressed me tremendously.

What about the US? I have never lived in the US but I have an impression that the sales assistants are also generous, even for non-purchasing customers, as long as they show enough interest. (This is where I’d love your stories and thoughts. Let me know!)

In the UK, it can be difficult to get samples without any purchase. Generally, even when I do buy things, it depends on whether the assistant knows me from previous purchases or it depends on how much I buy.

But I did once experience moments of brilliance in a Boots store in London. After using my Boots advantage card loyalty points on a Chanel blusher (so technically I didn’t pay for it), I was looking at some Chanel skincare products. It just so happened that whatever product I was pointing at and said I was interested in trying, the assistant managed to find a sample for me.

My friend who was with me then said it looked as if the assistant had been hypnotized by me… (Ummm…is this a skill that I actually have?)

But, most of the time, I need to try way harder than this…

I am interested to know about the sample-giving “culture” where you are. Do drop a comment, and please let me know which country (or city) you are in!

Tomorrow (the main course): I talk about how I usually ask for samples at the counters. I don’t want to keep my experience to myself anymore, so do stay tuned!

Other mini discussion going on:
Can I Return This, Please?

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

A-Mused Thursday, August 30, 2007

As always, an ingenious blog entry my friend!

Samples in the US what an interesting topic….

Ok..let’s see. I’ve been to many little spots to shop! Paris, London, etc….but since you’re exposed to a majority of it anyway best keep to the US!

US is………..kinda sorta easy with the samples but not really.

It all really depends.

If you go to Sephora it’s sorta of a bingo game. You win it or you lose it.

Technically speaking most Sephoras are not handing on samples for you if you don’t purchase!

However with a really tiny purchase a majority of them will include a few samples in the bag!

If you happen across an extra nice SA and express an interest in please may I have some samples they may go right ahead and gift them to you or give you a snarky little reply saying “we don’t have any” or such!

If you shop in larger department stores I think scoring samples without a purchase is way easier because either they are laying on the counter to take on occasion or they are shoving them into your hand…perfume especially!

Certain counters differ from one another. I know that Lancome is quite free with samples, as is Origins.

I find shopping online gets me an array of items! If I shop at Shu I end up with some heavy duty samples!!!!!!!!!!! If I shop at Sephora and spend 99 dollars my new beauty card will score me a nice 3-4 samples plus an additional large size sample such as a mini lotion, mini perfume, mini masara, gloss, etc…!

Philosophy counter at Nordies is quite free with the samples too! Plus online orders. Even without purchasing at Nordies they will gladly shove samples at you to convince you to buy something! I’ve scored a shower gel trio package, hope in a jar packets, a mini airbrush palette, etc…!

I wish certain cosmetics would offer some sort of sample pack. Such as MAC. Japanese Brands always have cute little palette samples which contain several color items from a line! I wish MAC and other lines would do the same!

I have had my MA at the MAC counter thrown in full size items for me! During novel twist she gave me one pearlier set for free!

Generally speaking I guess I feel like samples are a hit and miss!

One other thing I do love is Bonus Week. Lancome, Clinique, etc..have bonus weeks where you purchase $30-50 in cosmetics and they thrown in an uber load of product free in a makeup bag, etc..! Very nice! Macy’s normally does this!

This past summer I got the Nordie’s straw bag which was filled with 12 mini size products (such as lash injection) plus a cute little summer straw bag with a tie! The samples actually, blush, were returned by me at sephora for something else! I know terrible aren’t I? But I got a credit for a few dollars by returning the mini size of lash injection and a few other bits that were included and in total my credit was $35 dollars at sephora so that was cool considering the bag and samples were free when I purchased the Philosophy Lemonade Shower Gel, Scrub, and Lotion!

All in and all it’s hit or miss with samples. Depends on MA’s, where you are shopping, and what’s available.

Mostly the key too it all is the MA and whether they are interested in gifting you or not!

Fantastic post PJ!

I’ll be over to steal your dishes and chopsticks by the way!

Great pic ;)


Marty Pauline Thursday, August 30, 2007

Getting samples in the US depends on where you go, The typical Shiseido Asian make-up boutique will offer you samples and will give you three if you are lucky to befriend the sales person. Nordstrom is the best place to offer service as they will usually give you samples of a line you are interested in, even make you one if there are none available. Sephora will also do this but at a limited number.
It was also in Japan that I received a generous amount of samples for line that I was interested in. My favorite are the samples from all the Kanebo lines.


Alice Thursday, August 30, 2007

I live in Devon, UK. The only times I recall being given freebies are at BeneFit counters (in Boots). Everytime I buy something there they give me a sample of their facial scrubs (the honey one and the pineapple one), I have quite a collection now!


♥~Erusa~♥ Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hey, PJ!
I live in Spain, and I must say that with almost every pruchase above 10€ you get some samples. I’ve never been asked what do I want, though. They just drop in the things they want. I’ve had some great experiences with SAs wich gave me some great freebies (Dior, Kanebo, Issey Miyake, Chanel). But, for example, the last time I bought a foundation and some more things(Valued 55-60€)in a shop, they gave me a plastic necklace…it was like “ewww..thanks, so that means I have to spend 200€ to get a fragrance sample?” (Lol)


Anonymous Thursday, August 30, 2007

SINGAPORE has the worst attitude and most stingy cosmetics sales personnel. if you dont buy any products from them, forget ever about getting any samples or even basic good manners.


PJ Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hello to EVERYONE that has left a comment thus far!!

Thank you so much for telling me about your experiences and observations.


I guess it definitely depends on the store.

I’ve also noticed that there are more and more counters in the UK which put samples on the counter for customers to take. I once saw a Biotherm counter in Selfridges in London which had a big fish bowl of samples. Needless to say, I helped myself with some…

You also mentioned Gift with Purchase. I have actually planned to write about this later. Again, lots of cultural differences actually!


Umm..you also mentioned that Nordstrom is generous with samples. I see a trend here. Sephora sounds nice as well.

It is great to hear about your similar experience in Japan. I wasn’t there for long so my observation is limited. But overall I was very impressed by their generosity!


It is great to hear from someone that is also in the UK! For me, every time I buy something at the counter, I always ask for samples. I almost always get one or two. I think counters at Boots are usually quite good for samples, but maybe it is only because I shop in my local Boots all the time so my face is familiar to some of the SA’s. Also, I find that Debenhams and House of Fraser are slightly more generous with samples than Selfridges and Harrods…


I had a nice experience in Spain. I bought a Lancome Hydra Zen pack (with a full-size Hydra Zen moisturizer and several travel-size products) in a Sephora store in Madrid. I asked for samples and I got many fragrance ones. I actually really like a couple of them. Also, overall, I find that the SA’s in Spain are more friendly than those in the UK…

Anonymous in Singapore–

I am surprised to hear what you said (even though I have not been to Singapore). I guess it is true that in many Asian countries, it is quite difficult to get any sample at the counter if you don’t buy anything. It is more or less similar here in the UK in that respect. But I am surprised by the lack of good manners you mentioned…

Thanks again for all your comments!!


Amanda Friday, August 31, 2007

Ok, so as someone who has worked in the make-up business for years (I’m a freelance artist and I’ve worked for a few different companies in the US), I have a thing or two to say about samples. The general rule about them is that if you’re nice, we’ll give them to you, generally as many as you want. If you’re a jerk, we’ll lie to you and tell you we don’t have any samples. As always, the nicer you are to salespeople, the more you’ll get from them. (Oh, and don’t take this to mean that if we tell you we don’t have any samples that we’re automatically lying to you. Sometimes we just really don’t have any.)


PJ Friday, August 31, 2007

Hello Amanda,

Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your honesty and frankness.

I’d be interested to know what you mean by the differences in customer demeanor. Maybe a couple of examples from your own experiences would lend us an insight.

I am sure we as customers all behave slightly differently. The aim of my post is to highlight the fact that, regardless of this, there are still noticeable and fascinating differences across countries as to how samples are handed out. Your view based on your experience in the industry in the US certainly adds to the discussion.


karen, makeupandbeautyblog.com Saturday, September 1, 2007

[…] A Touch of Blusher wants to know if you’d like some samples[…]

…hi PJ!! =)


PJ Saturday, September 1, 2007

Hello Karen,

Hope all’s well with you. My Weekend Beauty Read will be up shortly..:)

Enjoy your weekend!


Julia Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hi! I’ve always found it’s quite hard to get samples . . . except for at Kiehl’s. I can get usually get a bunch of samples without purchase. I don’t know if you have them in the u.k. or not . . . ?


PJ Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hello Julia,

Thank you very much for leaving a comment!

Yes, we have Kiehl’s in the UK. It is indeed easier to get samples there, since they do encourage customers to try the products first.

The sizes of their samples seem considerably larger as well, which is always good. :)


Tammy Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I always forget to ask for samples… Maybe I should start, eh? I had a good experience with samples in Japan too. I bought a foundation from the Kanebo line, and the salesgirl came up to me with several samples of a Shiseido line! Hehe I love expanding my horizons ;)


PJ Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hello Tammy,

Thank you for commenting again!

I seem to almost always remember to ask for samples. I guess it is a habit of mine… Who knows…maybe it will become one of your habits too..;)

I am just guessing you got the Shiseido samples in a drugstore. That seems to be another great thing about shopping in a drugstore in Japan…you can get samples from different lines…

(We are missing Japan together, aren’t we? :) )


Anonymous Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I live in Quebec, Canada and my experience has been very varied – it depends on the store, the brand and the salesperson. Sometimes I’ve received samples even if i haven’t bought a thing.
Other times I’ve spent quite a bit of money and yet had my request for samples treated as if I’d asked for some outrageous favor (which is a dumb move on the salesperson’s part, since I’ve often bought products only because I was able to sample them beforehand!).
It helps to ask nicely and politely.


PJ Friday, January 25, 2008

Hi there,

It does seem the situation varies in Quebec…but I’d guess that most of us also have different experiences with different counters and sales assistants.

I agree with you. I have become a long-term user of some products because I got samples of them in the first place and I did really like them. Like what I mentioned in the post, trying out samples is indeed one of the best ways to experience a new and potentially suitable product.

Indeed, it definitely helps if we ask politely and nicely!

Thank you for leaving your comment and adding to the discussion!


To med school and beyond Sunday, February 8, 2009

I love samples because I love trying new products and seeing what works for me. If I like a product from a sample I often do buy the full size product later on.

I’m in the UK (Hants) and I generally have more luck in departments stores than in Boots. House of Fraser are usually quite good, as are Debenhams. John Lewis can be okay but don’t seem to offer as many samples.

I don’t usually just ask for samples. If there are some left out for customers to help themselves I will take some.

Some brands occasionally do ”events’ where you take a voucher and get a mini makeover/tutorial and get a sample. I do these as often as I can. I like the free samples and it really helps when I can learn from the techniques of the staff.

If a sales assistant is snotty/stuck up/rude I make a huge point not to buy from that counter, ever. If I want that brand I will buy elsewhere.

When I buy something from a counter, I ALWAYS ALWAYS ask for samples (politely, of course!). I can’t recall many times when I didn’t get given samples in this way.

It really varies, some are lovely and give loads of samples without purchase and others lie and say they have none…even when I can see the samples behind the counter!

I do feel more inclined to buy from brands that offer samples because I have had the chance to try the product at home and see how it works with my other products etc.


PJ Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hi To med school and beyond,

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. It is always nice to hear more about this topic from readers in the UK! :)

I do always politely ask for samples as well, and I usually get at least one or two. I also think that counters in Debenhams seem to be slightly more generous with samples. (But I still like John Lewis, which generally has better customer services.)

I find that my local Boots is quite good with samples. But it might also be because I am a very loyal Boots customer. I suppose some of the sales assistants recognize me from past purchases…

Thank you again for posting your comment! :)


Leave a Comment

Please note that information on purchasing Japanese cosmetics on-line can be found on my FAQ page.

Thank you very much!

Previous post:

Next post: