Creative Ideas to Increase Sales in Retail — Without Discounting

Creative ideas to increase sales in retail stores.

Get your customers off the “discount drug,” boost profits and maintain margins with these creative retail sales ideas.

By Lane Ware, SVP Consulting and Account Services

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. And, while discounting can build traffic, 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 to join a 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.

Too many discounts damage retail sales performance
Too many discounts damage retail sales performance

Below are some promotion ideas for retail stores that don’t rely on heavy discounting to improve sales performance and won’t directly impact your profit.

Match Sales Ideas to Your Retail 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. Other examples of using service to drive revenue 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.

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 marketing automation.

Transactional Emails

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.
Creative retail sales idea from Sephora
  • Example: Zulily’s abandoned cart notifications also do an excellent job of recouping revenue that could have slipped away.
Creative retail sales idea from Zulily

Customer Data

Another opportunity is to mine your customer data to create more relevant, targeted messaging to drive sales. It’s well known that personalized messages have greater impact. Just using a personalized subject line can lift open rates by 26 percent, according to Experian. And MailChimp research shows that segmented campaigns drive higher performance than one-size-fits-all campaigns.

Segmentting retail promotions can improve click rates by 100%
Source: “Effects of List Segmentation on Email Marketing Stats,” MailChimp.com, updated Feb. 1, 2017, https://mailchimp.com/resources/research/effects-of-list-segmentation-on-email-marketing-stats/, accessed April 17, 2017
  • 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.

Value-Add Retail Content Marketing

Going back to supporting brand strategy, another way to keep customers engaged and increase lifetime value (LTV) is to share the story of your brand. Instead of always promoting sales and markdowns, focus on what differentiates your brand from the competition. Whether that’s providing the latest styles direct from the runways or sourcing the latest technology for comfort and fit, have a conversation. Provide tips and how-to’s related to your merchandise and your story.

The opportunity to share this type of content is wider than you might initially think: emails, your website, apps, your influencers’ blogs and so on. And, of course, your social marketing efforts offer lots of opportunities to impact sales.

  • 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.
Value-add retail content from Ulta
Value-add retail content from Ulta
  • 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.

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.

  • 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.
The North Face leverages its loyalty program to maximize retail sales
  • 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.
Amazon leverages its Prime loyalty program to maximize retail sales
  • 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.
Kohl’s leverages its loyalty program to maximize retail sales
Kohl’s leverages its loyalty program to maximize retail sales

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.


As CCG’s senior vice president, consulting & account services, Lane Ware combines strategic expertise and experience in multiple industries with implementation and project management.

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