How Ulta Beauty Is Tackling The Beauty Sampling Waste Problem

Words by Retail Bum

How Ulta Beauty Is Tackling The Beauty Sampling Waste Problem
How Ulta Beauty Is Tackling The Beauty Sampling Waste Problem

In the world of beauty and cosmetics, free samples have long been a cherished marketing tool — one that gives consumers a risk-free way to try out new products and discover their perfect beauty routine.

However, the traditional approach of distributing random, non-personalized samples has become unsustainable in today’s highly competitive market. In response to this challenge, SOS, in partnership with Ulta Beauty, is pioneering a new era in the beauty industry by harnessing the power of retail media kiosks to offer personalized free beauty samples.

During an interview with Retail Bum, Robina Verbeek, co-CEO and co-founder of SOS, delved into the company’s mission to eradicate the excessive distribution of impersonal samples and replace the antiquated approach with a fresh strategy centered around using retail media technology.

“It’s truly an exciting opportunity for consumers to be more intentional about the samples they’re choosing to take with them,” said Verbeek.

“From Ulta Beauty’s perspective, it’s about being more deliberate in how these samples are curated and considering sustainability concerns, as sampling can lead to wastage if it’s not reaching the right audience.”

The sampling problem

Each year, the beauty industry churns out millions of samples, a substantial portion of which remain unused and ultimately find their way into landfills. Highlighting the environmental impact of this practice, TerraCycle, a waste management company, has conducted a study that has revealed that around 120 billion units of packaging are manufactured annually for beauty and personal care products, a significant portion of which are dedicated to single-use sample sizes.

What is SOS?

SOS serves as a commerce media platform linking commerce, sampling, and retail activity with media. Its kiosks include a touchscreen on the machine’s facade, providing still video, dynamic, and interactive content to onlookers. When consumers are in proximity to an SOS machine, they encounter content, surveys, and feedback that capture their attention, ultimately introducing them to the SOS ecosystem, according to Verbeek.

In essence, SOS aims to offer a way for consumers to make more informed choices and support sustainability, which is a key consideration in today’s societal landscape.

The Ulta Beauty x SOS partnership

Ulta Beauty has embraced SOS as a means to promote responsible consumer behavior further within their stores. According to Verbeek, initial data indicates that the engagement and usage of SOS devices has so far been promising, and it is helping keep consumers engaged while offering brands a more direct channel to connect with their audience.

Unlike traditional methods like handing out samples or sending out flyers, which often go unnoticed or unused, SOS presents an efficient and engaging way for Ulta Beauty and its portfolio of brands to establish connections with consumers.

“It unlocks an exciting platform and opportunity for Ulta and all of their portfolio brands to connect with consumers in novel ways, introducing gamified experiences and creating numerous surprise and delight moments. SOS can facilitate this not only in-store but also across all other locations where SOS is currently operational,” said Verbeek.

SOS kiosks can be found in various Ulta Beauty stores across ten strategically picked cities in states such as New York, Massachusetts, Florida, California, and Texas. The kiosks aim to transform the sampling experience, serving Ultamate Rewards members and promoting new member sign-ups. Members can claim a complimentary sample every week from a selection of travel-sized products in cosmetics, skincare, and haircare from well-known brands.

For Ultamate Rewards members, accessing these free samples is as easy as providing their phone number or email to link to their existing account. At the same time, non-member guests can conveniently register and create their Ultamate Rewards account at the SOS machine to take advantage of this opportunity.

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