’Tis almost the season to go shopping. As customers start anticipating Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as their children start making Christmas lists, wouldn’t it be nice if they were thinking specifically of your store? And so ’tis the season for small businesses to focus on sales promotions.
Your top goal in promotions is increased sales. After all, year-to-year growth is part of a healthy business’s mission statement. But there are long-term benefits to a sales promotion, even if they don’t translate into sales right away. A sales promotion can attract new customers, making people aware that your business exists and giving them a taste of what you have to offer.
Even a consumer who doesn’t make a purchase right now may still be attracted enough by your promotion to shop with you again or sign up to receive future promotions. Everyone in your email list is a customer or potential customer who wants a reason to use your business.
A sales promotion can keep your regular customers coming back and be something they anticipate year after year. It’s not November for them without your big sale!
Don’t overlook 2 other benefits of a strong sales promotion.
One is the opportunity to clear out old inventory to make room for the products you’re bringing in for Christmas or the new year. Blake Fontana of Frank Jewelers takes full advantage of this opportunity. He says, “Ring styles change like fashion styles. What’s hot this year will likely be passé next year. Therefore, it’s important to get the money out of our backstock, so we can invest in what’s hot next. We heavily promote our holiday sales, and the result is increased capital to stock for the coming year.”
Another reason for aggressive seasonal sales promotions is the chance to introduce consumers to new products—and at great prices. And if they like the new products, they may see you as a groundbreaker and look forward to what you’ll bring out next year.
Those are your goals. But how can you achieve them?
Here are 4 types of promotions that can get customers looking forward to your sales this season.
People love a discount. Conversely, they don’t love the thought that they might be paying full price for something they could probably find cheaper somewhere else.
For this reason, customers sometimes surf for an hour or more to find a site offering the product for a few bucks cheaper.
There are a number of ways to offer customers discounts:
Bundling: In this approach, the business offers 2 products or services for 1 price. Consumers expect that price to be lower than the combined price of the items, of course. But a business can satisfy that expectation by discounting the price of only 1 of the bundled items. For instance, it's possible to combine a bottle of shampoo at full price with a bottle of conditioner at a discounted price—maybe a product that isn’t selling well. A dentist could offer a bundle of 2 services and discount the 1 he/she has a higher profit margin on. Bundling can be a way, too, for businesses to clear out old inventory by discounting it and combining it in a bundle with a full-priced new product. The catch here is that the old inventory must still be something a customer would want, so that the bundle offers him or her real value. It's also possible to use bundling as a way of introducing a new product by including it with a popular product. The customer may perceive the lower price of the bundle as a golden opportunity to give the new product a try without paying full price.
Prepayment discounts: These can be an attractive option for some businesses. A small business that specializes in shaving supplies, for instance, may benefit from having customers subscribe to a yearly plan, so that at a discounted price they get razor blades or supplies sent to them every month. The convenience and the discount makes it worthwhile for the customer to pay the larger sum up front and provides the business owner the security of 12 months of sales at once.
Volume discounts: It typically costs less per item to buy a 12-pack of toilet paper than 12 individual rolls. A volume discount enables a business owner to move a lot of inventory in a way that is attractive to consumers. A popular variant of the volume discount is Buy 1, Get 1 Free. Studies have shown that people prefer free to a discount, even if the discount gives them the same value.
Seasonal discounts: According to a study by Adobe, in 2018 Thanksgiving Day sales reached $3.7 billion and Black Friday $6.2 billion—but both were surpassed by Cyber Monday sales, which soared to $7.9 billion. The whole season, Nov 1–26, reached a total of $58.5 billion in online sales alone. The reason is that people expect discounts at this time of year, and small businesses need to meet those expectations. A recurring sale that customers enjoy becomes, for them, an important part of the season, something they look forward to year after year.
Buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS): The same Adobe study noted that in 2018 there was a 50% increase over the previous year in people buying online and picking up the item in the store. Small businesses can take advantage of this trend. A reason Cyber Monday brings in more money than Black Friday is that shopping online is convenient and avoids the crowds. But a small local business can offer the consumer not only the convenience of shopping from home at a discounted price, but also of picking up the item at any time, without having to wait for it to ship.
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2. Coupons, gift cards and rewards
Coupons and gift cards function in a way similar to discounts. They offer the customer a chance to pay less than he or she otherwise would. They're especially effective in keeping customers shopping at a particular business. One purchase naturally leads to the next because the customer knows that he/she has coupons to use. Coupons can be given at the time of a purchase or may be emailed to customers. Some businesses even include them on their packaging, inviting consumers to text a certain number in order to receive a coupon.
While coupons typically apply to specific products, gift cards allow the consumer to pay less for any product of choice. In many cases, though, gift cards are never used. Consumers lose them or forget about them, which can be to the small business’s benefit.
Shoppers love to be rewarded. In many niches—coffee shops, gas stations, clothing boutiques—they expect it. Credit card companies understand this, too, and many offer cash-back rewards and discounts for using their cards.
A tripwire is an item that a customer will find desirable and that a business offers at an extremely low price. A lingerie store might offer a product for only 1 dollar to everyone who comes into the store. The strategy works on the principle that an initial purchase “breaks the ice,” as it were, and often leads to more purchases. The customer feels good about the purchase and likes the store and is more likely to shop there again, even if he/she doesn’t buy anything else on that visit.
Free samples work on a similar principle. They can literally create an appetite for what the store sells, which is why grocery stores offer them. They can also overcome barriers: Dance lessons are expensive, but the offer of a free—or deeply discounted—first lesson may get the customer over that initial hurdle.
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4. Flash sales
A flash sale is a sale that's limited to a short period of time, perhaps a day, perhaps only a few hours. An Experian study showed that flash sales that last only 3 hours work the best.
A flash sale creates a sense of urgency: If the customer doesn’t complete the purchase right away, the sale is going to be over. It limits the time for customers to surf the web, looking for slightly better deals. It can also move a lot of inventory in a short period of time and make room for new inventory.
For a flash sale to be effective, it must be promoted at least a few days in advance. Everyone on the business’s email list should receive notice of it more than once. According to the Experian study, “56% of businesses have higher click-to-open rates on their Flash Sale emails compared to their yearly click-to open rate.” The study also showed that flash sales work best in the evening, with email announcements coming in the mid-afternoon.
It's possible, too, to reward loyal customers—or any customer on the business’s email list—by giving them an opportunity to start enjoying the sale in advance, perhaps an hour ahead of other customers. Not only do customers enjoy the sense of beating others to the deals, but their sense of urgency associated with the flash sale may be even greater because they know that their advantage is temporary.
There's an additional benefit for business owners: Customers who come late to the flash sale may sign up to receive email promotions, so that next time they can be early birds.
Even if your customers include other businesses, loyal customers like rewards and email is the most effective way to keep them informed of your promotions. Just remember to give them a sale early enough so they can promote your products in their own sales.
’Tis the season to prepare for customers who are eager to get a head start on their holiday shopping! As a small business owner, you need to plan ahead now to:
Reward loyal customers with coupons
Plan for special discounts
Prepare the tripwires or free samples that will break the ice and lead to more sales
Hint at the sale coming up that will make customers look forward not merely to shopping but shopping at your store