Brand Partnerships · Article

Fall 2022 Back-to-School: A Great Time to Sample to Gen Z College Students

July 20, 2022

Schools, students, and parents are gearing up for the return to campus this fall and that means big opportunity for product sampling programs. The pandemic shutdown sidelined many, if not all, in-person sampling programs, so now is the perfect time to get these sampling campaigns back on track and moving forward again.

Gen Z college students are excited to return to campus. That includes renewed interest in exploring new products and experiences and sharing them with friends.


Here are some tried and true tips that will help ensure an easy-to-implement and successful Back-to-School Fall 2022 sampling program.

Read about:

  • Why sampling will work for your brand.
  • When to launch your program for best results.
  • Which sampling program format to use for your product.

Product sampling makes your product real.

Simply put, giving out free samples puts your product directly into college students’ hands. Whether you’re looking to build awareness or are already high on their radar screen, sampling quickly transforms your brand into a tangible product. It can bring your Instagram feed to life for these consumers as they consume and experience your product first-hand and risk-free.

Sampling is cost effective and delivers high ROI since students who try will likely buy..

An efficient component of your marketing plan, sample costs range from $.15 to $1.50 per piece to distribute, depending on type of product, size, and distribution format. In fact, 84% of college students say they are likely to purchase a product after receiving a free sample.

Aligning with college life key milestones yields best results.

Sampling program success involves more than just getting product into consumers’ hands. It has to happen at the right time – and link to life events that trigger purchases.

These key purchase cycles align with college life milestones and are coming up quickly as Fall 2022 approaches.

  • Start of the semester —When fall and spring terms begin in the August-September and January-February timeframes, students stock up on personal products (think toothpaste and deodorant), food products (cereal, frozen meals), laundry detergent, and other basics they know they will need during the semester.

In addition to shopping for staples, Gen Z college students are ready to celebrate and splurge on new brands. Many of these consumers have more dollars to spend after stimulus checks and increased saving during the pandemic.

  • New Student Orientation –The start of the college journey marks a clear P.O.M.E. (point-of-market entry) for brands. Sampling during this key time period allows brands to begin building brand loyalty from the moment new students arrive on campus and will increase awareness and sales for brands at a time when college students are extremely open to trying and buying new brands.
  • Athletics – College athletics are a major deal. Your samples can have a big influence on their game day spending. Whether students are watching games from the stadium or in their dorms, snack foods, take-out, beverages, and party supplies top their shopping lists.

Other milestones will happen throughout the school year.

  • Exam time – Stressful mid-terms and finals drive snack food cravings for chips, cookies and frozen pizzas, while other students seek de-stress items like essential oils and bath gels. Sales of energy drinks and acne medicine spike as students burn the midnight oil.
  • Formals and graduation — Beauty and grooming products are best sellers during formal season and graduation months. Students are in celebration mode and want to look and feel their best. They’re shopping for toiletries, makeup, hair products, and fragrances during these timeframes

Match the sampling program format to your product and budget.

The smartest distribution method for your product depends on several factors like physical sample characteristics, quantity, and target audience. Consider these options:

  • Hand-to-hand distribution – This person-to-person interaction involves someone physically handing samples to the consumer. Handing out samples in-store or on campus is a great way to disperse many samples in a short amount of time and ensures that your sample is received and noticed by the recipient.
  • Website order inserts – Students order stuff online all the time and appreciate freebies inside their shipment boxes. This method is great for products that are somewhat private in nature such as personal hygiene products. Your brand might benefit from the halo effect, meaning that if they love the brand that’s the box’s main attraction, those positive feelings could spread to your sample.
  • Sample boxes – Whether they’re received as gifts or as paid subscriptions, Gen Z loves them. You can be included as part of a multi-brand box or can “own” the entire box. Owning and branding your own box – inside and out – is costlier than sharing the box, but it gives you full control over timing, format, and 100% share of voice.
  • Tastings and free pours – Once again, this format is returning to retail, proving to be popular and effective. New COVID protocols have impacted tasting program requirements, but don’t rule out this option and be creative in building these live events.  It is a natural fit for perishable food and beverage items. Who doesn’t want free food and drinks served to them? These sampling events create a buzz and can get you instantaneous feedback from Gen Z college students.

Are you ready to launch your sampling program in time for Fall 2022 Back-to-School?

Barnes & Noble College can take the worry out of sampling programs and get your product in the hands of over 6MM college students on 750+ campuses nationwide this fall, during back-to-campus shopping period. Contact us today.

Learn about our opportunities HERE.

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