To create a more direct relationship with its customers and build its own consumer data sets, indie acne-patch brand Hero Cosmetics debuted an e-commerce sampling program this fall in partnership with supplement company Hum Nutrition and Korean skin-care brand E Nature.

Hero launched its own e-commerce site in June 2018, after debuting on Amazon in September 2017. (The brand also retails at Anthropologie and Riley Rose, and recently expanded to Neiman Marcus in November.) Competing with Amazon has been tricky for Hero, though: Its own site accounts for only about 10 percent of its sales, while Amazon makes up 80 percent, and the online retailer has historically been opaque with its brands about data sharing. In 2019, the brand is expected to earn more than $1.5 million in sales, according to Ju Rhyu, Hero Cosmetics founder. (It is being driven via its first product, the Might Patch.)

The recent sampling exercise is meant to drive customers back to Hero’s website, explained Rhyu. “This program allows us to offer something of value to our customers that helps us differentiate [ourselves] from other channels,” she said.

By working with Hum Nutrition to offer samples of its Glow Sweet Glow Gummies and E Nature with its Marshmallow Cleansing Form, Hero Cosmetics also hoped to understand customer lifestyle data. Customers have the choice to pick one of the two options at checkout for free. When customers browsed the site, they were presented with two pop-ups during the checkout process that informed them about the option to choose between Hum Nutrition and E Nature products or opt-out of receiving a sample.

“Rather than providing samples of [our own product alone], which is what other brands typically do, we thought a collaborative approach with other indie brands would be more compelling and allow us to create a community among customers,” said Rhyu. Hero will share its findings with the brands as an incentive to participate in the program, including data on how often a brand’s samples were chosen, the split between male and female shoppers, ages of samplers and in what states they reside.

Hum Nutrition saw the potential to market its products on Hero’s website as an opportunity to educate potential customers about the brand’s focus on beauty-from-within health, according to Amy Oliver, vp of digital marketing for Hum Nutrition. Additionally, E Nature saw it as an opportunity to convert Hero’s customers to their own by including a discount coupon with their sample.

Hero informed prospective customers about its sampling program through three separate Instagram posts on its social profile at the end of October, which collectively garnered 391 “likes” and comments. Since then, the brand has experienced three times its usual traffic to its site but was unable to disclose further specifics. Over 84 percent of customers have opted in to add a free Hum Nutrition or E Nature sample to their purchase. In nearly two months, Hum has proven slightly more popular with Hero’s clients: Nearly 50 percent of participating customers chose its gummies versus 35 percent selecting E Nature’s cleansing foam. Hero Cosmetics plans to have a quarterly rotation of brands in the sample program, with Hum and E Nature ending their partnerships on Dec. 31.

For Hero’s part, it is collecting this data to further understand purchasing behavior. The brand is currently exploring product launches for 2019 and plans to expand beyond acne patches with a full assortment of products informed by this data. Additionally, the brand plans to send an email survey following the end of the Hum and E Nature partnership to the approximately 15 percent of customers who did not opt for a sample to understand why.

“We already know [our customers] are more health- and wellness-oriented, and by knowing what other products and brands they have an affinity with, we can see what products they do or do not want,” Rhyu said.