Get your customers off the “discount drug,” boost profits and maintain margins with these creative ideas to improve retail sales performance.
By Sandra Gudat, President/CEO
It’s the holy grail for retail marketers: Drive revenue while protecting margin. We’re always looking for ideas to increase sales in retail without giving away the profit. Sure, discounting is a popular way to build traffic — but it’s not the right answer to this eternal quandary.
The Damage of Discounts
We all know that throwing too many offers into the mix can hurt your profits. It can also damage your brand, adversely affect average order size and even decrease conversions outside of the sales periods by training your customers to wait for an offer. Rather than building the perception that they’re getting a bargain, customers may start to believe that you’re overpriced the remainder of the time.
For most of us, the answer lies in striking the right promotional balance. Some offers are just the price of entry: Free shipping on orders above a certain minimum and at least 10 percent off in exchange for a customer joining your mailing list. But if you’re approaching the Kohl’s or Bed, Bath & Beyond weekly promotional cadence, it may be time to look for alternatives. Or, as my colleague is fond of saying, get your customers off the discount drug.
Below are some retail promotion ideas that don’t rely on heavy discounting to improve sales performance and won’t directly impact your profit.
Match Creative Retail Sales Ideas to Your Brand Strategy
Your brand and what you stand for can be the starting point as you brainstorm ideas to increase sales in your retail store. Consider these examples:
Superior Service, à la Nordstrom
Is your brand the Nordstrom of your retail niche? Then customer service is your backbone. You’re probably already doing a lot for your customers, but take a step back and look for additional services or customer handling opportunities to increase visits or impact order size.
For example, early access to the Anniversary Sale is not only a popular perk for Nordstrom Rewards members, it’s also a powerhouse sales driver for the retailer. Nordstrom and fashion retailer Uniqlo also offer free alterations — a service that could quickly turn an almost-bought into a purchase, return visits and referrals.
Neiman Marcus — another retailer known for above-and-beyond service — offers smartphone charging stations in some of its stores. Other retailers offer free Wi-Fi service and some even provide devices for customers to use in-store. For today’s mobile-focused consumer, such services can be a definite draw.
Other examples of using services to improve retail sales performance include:
- Offering concierge service
- Dedicated customer service or online chat line
- Early access to new merchandise through store preview events
- Personal stylist appointments
- Participation in an advisory board or crowdsourcing opportunity
Convenience, à la Amazon
If convenience is part of your brand strategy, look at opportunities that will make it even easier for customers to make a purchase. For example, Amazon is taking the auto checkout experience from online to bricks and mortar.
Google Shopping Campaigns make it easy for retailers to sell products directly through the search engine results page. That’s fewer clicks for your customer — a simple convenience that can make a big sales difference in today’s fast-paced consumer world. And with more than 3.3 billion searches occurring on Google every day, you’re bound to get great exposure with this creative retail promotion. (Check out the search stats here.)
Eyewear retailer Warby Parker is one of the retailers now leveraging augmented reality to help consumers virtually “try on” products without setting foot in a store. With a smartphone camera and the store’s mobile app, people can see how different frames will look on their face — giving them more confidence to make a purchase even if they don’t have easy access to a brick-and-mortar location.
Other convenience features that could help drive traffic and sales include:
- Easy returns (no receipt required)
- Added functionality in apps to easily locate items in store aisles (think Target and Kroger)
- Integrated prepayment and mobile payment for easy in-and-out (Starbucks is using it to increase visits from harried commuters)
Improve Your Existing Marketing Efforts
While adding services typically takes time and effort, low-hanging opportunities to improve retail sales performance may focus on optimizing your existing messages and ensuring that you’re leveraging both tried-and-true and innovative marketing solutions.
Transactional emails are one area where a facelift can have immediate impact, since they provide a unique opportunity to target customers at the right time with the right message. In fact, transactional emails have eight times more opens and clicks than any other type of email and can generate up to six times more in revenue, according to Experian.
- Example: Sephora does a great job of encouraging repeat visits in its shipping confirmation emails. At the bottom of the email, the brand adds a P.S. with a rotating banner of recommended products.
- Example: Zulily’s abandoned cart notifications also do an excellent job of recouping revenue that could have slipped away.
Social Media Targeting
Chances are good that your customers frequent one or more social channels. So why not put your ads where your customers are? Most social platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, have simple interfaces to help you build an ad campaign and create highly targeted audiences. While you’re testing out creative retail promotions, why not try a video ad, like these from Toms, Sephora, MeUndies and others.
Other opportunities for developing creative retail sales ideas revolve around mining your customer data to create more relevant, targeted, personalized messaging. It’s well known that personalized messages have greater impact. Just using a personalized subject line can boost open rates by 50 percent and click-to-open rates 58 percent over non-personalized subject lines, according to some experts. That personalization could be a simply a name or it might be a reference to the customer’s transaction or browsing history.
In addition, MailChimp research shows that segmented campaigns drive higher performance than one-size-fits-all campaigns.
You can also leverage observational data to help determine which in-store conditions drive sales. Then renovate your displays and in-store promotion ideas accordingly.
- Example: Imagine you’re a footwear retailer. You can leverage your data to learn how many miles your customers run each week. Then, when an individual is approaching 300 to 500 miles, send an email reminder that it’s time to replace those running shoes.
- Example: When we worked with PETCO, we used data to identify when a customer was bringing home a new pet. The store could then offer a free puppy or kitten educational savings booklet, which helped us understand what type and breed of pet the customer had. We could then use that information for target messaging. It also provided data for a trigger reminder to be sent when it was time to repurchase pet food.
Education & Value-Added Content
Going back to supporting brand strategy, another way to keep customers engaged, give them reasons to purchase and increase lifetime value (LTV) is to provide them with useful, interesting or entertaining information. Instead of always promoting sales and markdowns, focus on what differentiates your brand from the competition and what your customers want or need to know related to your products and services.
That might mean providing the latest styles direct from the runways, sourcing the latest technology for comfort and fit, sharing tips and how-to’s or telling your brand story. The opportunities to share this type of content are more diverse than you might initially think: emails, videos, your website, apps, social media, your influencers’ blogs, educational workshops and classes, event hosting and so on.
- Example: Home Depot workshops cover a number of topics and include Do-It-Yourself, Do-It-Herself and Kids sessions.
- Example: ULTA, offers articles on beauty and makeup on its website to engage customers and make them more comfortable with their purchase decisions, leading to higher conversions.
- Example: Sephora’s website features a variety of video tutorials. The store’s mobile app provides access to a Virtual Artist cosmetics tester and even allows customers to book appointments at their local Sephora store for additional help.
- Further reading: Leveraging New CRM Marketing Channels for Your Loyalty Program
Leverage the Loyalty
As you may have already noticed in the examples above, your loyalty program can be a great foundation for building creative retail sales ideas without offering discounts. This is where matching the non-promotional effort to your brand can really play out.
Look for exclusive benefits you can offer your members that will not only enhance awareness, but also improve retail sales. And, yes, these types of perks can be quantified.
- Further reading: See how our statistical benefits optimization models helped this retailer quantify benefits to define an optimal mix, boosting customer engagement and store profits.
- Example: The North Face does a great job of leveraging its VIPeak program to drive sales in a unique and engaging way. Members can redeem their points for exclusive products featured in the rewards catalog or use them to purchase unique guided outdoor trips. The program’s tagline sums it up well:
As a VIPeak Rewards member, each purchase and experience with The North Face brings you one step closer to scoring gear or taking the trip of a lifetime.
- Example: Although many Amazon Prime members may initially sign up for free shipping, the additional benefits — such as access to free digital content (ebooks, TV shows, music) — add value in a less tangible fashion, which helps support an impressive renewal rate despite a hefty membership fee.
- Example: Kohl’s does a particularly good job of using its loyalty program to drive customers who are close to a reward to convert by communicating their status and stressing urgency. The good news is that orders using a reward are typically greater than non-reward purchases.
Maximizing Sales in Retail Always Comes Back to the Brand
These are just a few ideas you can use to increase sales in your retail business. As you can see, there are many short- and long-term tactics that can build traffic and increase sales without impacting your bottom line. And, while many incorporate your loyalty program, the most important key to remember is that the most successful ideas will support, complement and integrate with your overall brand strategy.
Our retail marketing experts can help you create a plan to balance your promotional strategy. Check out our retail marketing services for all the ways we can assist you in achieving greater success. For a complimentary, one-on-one discussion, call us at 800.525.0313 or email us today.
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Sandra Gudat is president & CEO of Customer Communications Group (CCG), a full-service customer relationship marketing (CRM) agency that helps Fortune 2000 retailers and financial institutions improve their bottom line by improving their customer relationships, loyalty and retention.