Honor Vets at Your Store With These Memorial Day Ideas

Treat military families like VIPs and give back to veterans' groups to show shoppers you care.
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If your store already has a military discount, consider doubling it over Memorial Day weekend. (Photo: Daniel Chester/Shutterstock)

Memorial Day weekend is approaching, which means it’s time to start promoting your store’s summer inventory. But this megashopping weekend isn’t just about giving great deals on grills and garden furniture — it’s also about paying tribute to veterans.

“Honoring vets at your store is part of being a good neighbor in the community and showing a commitment to your customers for sacrifices they and their families have made. That helps customers who spend money at your store feel good about themselves, as well,” said Bruce Sanders, consumer psychologist and author of “Retailer’s Edge: Boost Profits Using Shopper Psychology.”

Here, Sanders offers some tips on how to make the most of this retail holiday without losing the authentic meaning of Memorial Day at your store.

Treat military families like VIPs

Your store might already have a discount for active service members and veterans — and if you don’t, now’s a great time to introduce one. A short-term boost to your store’s military discount can make recipients feel like VIPs on Memorial Day, said Sanders.

“While your promotions should typically be available to all customers, a discount for military members is one of the discounts where even people who don’t earn the discount feel good about it.”

So how much should you up your military and veteran discount for Memorial Day?

“Consider doubling it for that weekend,” said Sanders. “That can really help draw people in and show that you care.”

Related: 6 Facts You Didn’t Know About Veteran-Owned Small Businesses

Donate proceeds to a veterans’ group

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Choose a veteran or military-related charity to donate all Memorial Day weekend proceeds to. (Photo: Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock)

Customers love shopping for a cause. Choose a relevant charity, like a veterans’ assistance organization, to support Memorial Day weekend, suggested Sanders.

“Giving a portion of sales revenues to causes supporting veterans clearly strengthens the associations of the retailer with Memorial Day and with a positive community presence,” he said. “It’s also especially useful for the veterans’ groups.”

Your donation will probably go further with a small, local charity than a large one, which may already receive many large contributions throughout the year.

“What counts is that you select a cause important to your customers,” he added.

Try putting your charitable efforts toward one or two products that customers are still getting familiar with, said Sanders.

“Among the more effective techniques for convincing customers to start using an item or brand previously unfamiliar to shoppers is to tie their trial to your store contributing to a charity. You can multiply the effect of your act of charity by negotiating with the vendors of these products to see if they’ll also make a donation,” said Sanders.

After you make your contribution, distribute a press release announcing the final amount to let customers know you stay true to your word.

Related: Introducing New Products at Your Store? Here’s How to Get Them to Sell

Ask customers to chip in

Money is just one of the resources veterans’ groups need — they also need volunteers. Help an organization recruit your customers to become volunteers over Memorial Day, said Sanders.

“You don’t need to do anything unusual, just having a poster or letting a member of the organization set up a table at the front of your store to explain volunteer opportunities to customers can be effective,” said Sanders.

This technique can be especially worthwhile for older shoppers, who tend to have a heightened desire to give back to the community, he added.

After your customer completes their volunteer work or makes a donation, invite them back into the store for some recognition.

“Honor them with a certificate. That seems to increase the likelihood of ongoing charitable efforts,” said Sanders.

And it builds your store’s reputation as a community-focused business year-round.

Related: Cheap, Easy Ways to Embrace Corporate Social Responsibility

Use patriotic numbers and passwords

Sometimes, gimmicky sales promotions can drum up excitement for a holiday shopping weekend.

“People enjoy a store theme. Set a few prices on popular items at $17.76 (or $18.12),” said Sanders.

You could also password-protect certain promotions by encouraging customers to mention a Memorial Day word or phrase, like “freedom” or “support our troops,” at the checkout counter. Just make sure you advertise the password in advance and that your entire staff is familiar with the promotion, said Sanders.

“People enjoy a store theme. Set a few prices on popular items at $17.76 (or $18.12).” -Bruce Sanders

“Shoppers love to feel they’re getting a special discount, especially one they need to work a little bit to receive. They’ll feel especially loyal to you if it’s a discount on a product they were going to buy anyway,” he said.

Related: 6 Fascinating Ways Numbers Influence Retail Sales

Use the flag strategically

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Consumers will sometimes appreciate more subtle decorations and flag imagery that don’t feel cheesy or disingenuous. (Photo: Mut Hardman/Shutterstock)

It’s important to strike a balance between using patriotic imagery for sales and marketing purposes, without exploiting it. This is especially true with the American flag, which tends to be all over retail stores around Memorial Day, said Sanders.

“In one study, the inclusion of an American flag on items like a carrying bag, beverage bottle, shoes and T-shirt led to less favorable opinions of the items by U.S. citizens. Make American flags part of the store decor or the general background on an ad, not part of the in-store merchandising signage or as bullets in a list of items in the ad,” he said.

You might be better off using imagery of vets and military members on your promotions. It’s a subtle difference, but those types of graphics relate more to Memorial Day than the flag, said Sanders.

“You never want customers to feel manipulated, so make sure your advertisements never feel cheesy or disingenuous,” he said.

Related: Why Small Business Owners Should Hire Military Veterans

Just because Memorial Day is powerful for store owners doesn’t mean you have to lose the true meaning of the holiday. Tying your Memorial Day weekend promotions back to veterans will show customers an authentic approach to celebrating an important American observance in a retail environment.

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