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The Wall Street Journal has a story about a Portland, Oregon, business called the SamplingLab, described as a store "that functions like a corporate focus group. It gives customers free samples in exchange for their opinion."

According to the story, "SamplingLab was founded by Jeff Davis, a marketing consultant, who figured a store setting with a lounge area would be less expensive for companies to test products and marketing than traditional focus groups. He opened in December on the city’s north side, in a gentrifying neighborhood where bike traffic and tattoo ink are common. Though anyone can browse the shelves and try products, the store chiefly aims to place brands into the hands of young adults who gravitate to the area. In its early months, it has stocked mostly food but expects to add personal care, health and beauty products and household goods."

The Journal writes that Portland seems to be an ideal place "to find a target audience of consumers in their 20s and 30s who eat organic, are passionate about where their chickens were raised, and are well-versed in the flavors of almond milk ... The city has developed a reputation for its restaurants and as a leader of food trends, and as a punch line for artisanal eating."

The experience works like this: "SamplingLab shoppers are invited to sip Portland’s beverage of choice, beer, gratis, while selecting from shelves stocked with full-size packages of snack food, candy, condiments, olive oil, soup, dried fruit, health drinks, soda and other foods. The store doesn’t have a cash register, but there is a catch. Customers can’t try the next product until they’ve completed a questionnaire about the last, giving brands their two cents, sometimes in great, descriptive detail, on flavor, texture, packaging and what they’d be willing to pay."
KC's View:
I have to check this place out ... it is literally a 15 minute bike ride from the apartment where I'm living in Portland this summer.

I'm a huge believer in sampling as a driver of consumer behavior, and this just sounds like a totally cool concept.