How Ulta Beauty Is Tackling The Beauty Sampling Waste Problem — Retail Bum

Retail Bum
3 min readNov 7, 2023

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.