In the past 18 years working with eCommerce clients, I have spotted one particular pattern, over and over again. It goes like this:
eCommerce client launches a new website or product.
They receive little engagement with the new website or product.
As a result, eCommerce client resorts to discounting their prices, in a desperate attempt to turn a profit fast.
It is a problem of perception: most eCommerce business owners perceive ‘promotions’, ‘discounts’ or ‘sales’ as an easy way to make a quick profit. The reality is, with this mindset, your company can soon become dependant on large discounts or promotions to make any profit, big or small.
Trust me, I’ve been there! One of my eCommerce brands used to attract customers that wanted a sale or a discount on a luxury item. These customers would only buy if they received a discount. Which left me with only two options: I could lower my profits, or receive zero profits. I soon realized that I needed a new set of customers and began rebranding my eCommerce site, giving free education, quality products and no discounts.
My advice? Plan your promotions. Spontaneous discounts will only work if you have outrageously high volumes of stock to sell. In any case, it is far greater to be known for the quality of your brand, or for your company values.
Let me share a secret with you… the 3 tips in this blog post, will run promotions that gain an influx of web visitors and purchases. Plus, with these 3 tips, people will shop your business all year round.
Step 1: Avoid Randomly Timed Promotions
The first step in running a successful eCommerce sale is simple. View your promotions as big projects. You can only do a few big projects per year, when it comes to your business.
It can be really tempting to lose sight of your overall marketing plan when thinking about promotions. But, in my experience, I have found that planning sales in advance, is the best thing for business success.
It's pretty simple really - when you plan a sale or promotion in advance, you can prepare customers. You can make sure your customer is exactly where they need to be in order to buy from your timely promotion.
So how do you do that?
Look at your annual marketing goals. Where do you need an influx of profit? What other projects are you working on this year?
Define the purpose or goal of the sale and by when it will maximize sales and revenue in your calendar.
You can then survey your customers… ask them what they would like from a promotion. Remember the goal of marketing is to attract new visitors to your eCommerce site. You must serve your ideal customer with the offers and discounts of their dreams.
Once you have set a 'goal' for the sale, you can prepare you customers.
Timing: Send a timely sequence of emails to let your customers know that a promotion is coming. This will build anticipation and loyalty from your customers.
Social Media: Use social media to tell your audience that a brilliant offer is coming. Use great images, punchy text.
Element of Scarcity: Let your customer know this is a limited time promotion that they must not miss. In order to attract a queue of people, you need to do few promotions and add an element of scarcity. Words cannot describe just how important this part is!
A great example of a company who complete all 3 of the above steps, is next. The company doesn't run a constant stream of promotions. Instead they plan and build a sense of anticipation around their irregular discounts.
For customers, shopping at next during their large scale promotions becomes a necessity. Why? Because for most of the year, next sell their stock full price. Actually, next give their online customers designated VIP slots to access their promotional webpage online.
This is scarcity at it’s finest. And scarcity is surely what makes a promotional - or a launch - exceptional.
Random Acts of Marketing
I’ve already laid bare: deciding in advance not to do random sales, can avoid what I call ‘Random Acts of Marketing’ …...which is something I used to be very well trained in!
Let me give you an example… A few months back, I saw that Amazon were running a promotional named ‘Prime Day.’ As soon as I saw this, I went to my eCommerce marketing team and suggested we piggy-back this campaign. My wonderful head of Marketing basically said NO! She was wise to do this. As an eCommerce team, we wanted time to generate a strategy for well-timed sales. This level of spontaneity would shock our customers and frustrate.
2. Personalize Your Promotions!
One thing I have learnt in my years in eCommerce is this; it’s better to reward loyal customers.
I can't stress enough the importance of nurturing existing customers, those who have bought from you more than once.
One of the ways you can do this is by personalizing your promotions.
You can do this in a few ways:
Use a referral app. Set up or purchase a system whereby customers can earn points for referring their friends to your website. The more points they gain, the greater the discount.
Create exclusivity by giving your promotion only to those that sign up for it, using their email address.
Offer a discount for a customer's birthday (this can be tricky to run.)
Make sure any promotional discount that you run on your eCommerce site matches your business ethos. What do I mean by this?
Here's an example....
One eCommerce client that I consult has a strong focus on Fairtrade and Ethical trading. For them, offering lower, discounted prices for the buyer translates to harsh conditions for their workers. This is against the values of their brand, so they don’t do it.
Know what your company ethos is – then stick to it! In the long run, customers will stay loyal to you for it.
Once you have decided how you want to run discounts and sales, then use a time frame. Don't use scarcity if you don’t mean it, let people know when things are out of stock. It's one of the greatest ways to sell a product, just to tell people that they can't have it. If you say it’s for a limited time or stock quantity, then make sure you let them know when it’s sold out….so they know you are being genuine.
Consider where you want to discount certain items, or a blanket % off all orders? Evaluate carefully your previous experience, look at what profits you actually made, were the sales ‘worth it’?
You’re after repeat customers - your goal is NOT to just outdo your competitors, you want repeat customers. That’s where you need to focus your efforts.
Step 3. Avoid Copying Competitors!
Running a sale, for sale’s sake isn’t really worth doing. We've all done it - see a sale which a competitor is running, then, decided that because they are doing it, so should we!
If you're sales is motivated purely by another company's strategy then chances are you will lose money. Or the very least, not get the loyalty and revenue from sales you could do if you stick to your own unique business marketing plan.
Focus on your business. What message do you want to send to your customers?
If you have constant sales and promotions, you can end up training your customers to just wait for a sale.
One eCommerce company I work with decided that they had developed too much of a discounting culture within their brand. They decided to stop doing continuing sales and random discount. When they did this, they had to hold their nerve, but over time, their revenues went up.
It’s not always easy to do this, but constantly looking sideways and copying your competitors isn’t a long term marketing plan.
Decide the ethos and values of your company and work to those. For optimum profit, you need to build loyal, repeat customers, not just one off customers who you gain from copying your competitor’s sale idea.
It takes bravery to be consistent. You need to consider the overall destiny of your business and hold fast to making your website a huge success. Fight temptation to run random promotions that will decrease the value of your business. Instead, use the steps above to plan your most stellar sale yet!