How 6 Retailers Use Discounts and Promotions to Boost Sales

Borrow these ideas to increase your store's traffic and customer loyalty.
Sample marketing strategies from small businesses like Enjoy: An Urban General Store, who hosts a trick-or-treating event for children in celebration of Halloween. (Photo: Enjoy: An Urban General Store)

When done right, promotions can attract more customers and keep them coming back.

But promotions, like marketing strategies, aren’t one-size-fits all. The flat discount used at one store may cut too much into profits at another. Social media giveaways work for some businesses (and their customer base) and not others. And the right promotion now may be the wrong one tomorrow.

To help you look past the more obvious sale racks, coupons and percentage cuts most used in stores and online, these six small businesses shared promotion tactics that have worked for them.

Add a limited time gift with purchase

Whitney Hu, communications and marketing director at Strand Books, New York City


(Photo: Strand Books)

“We’re known for our Strand-branded tote bags, which we sell all year long. But at the holidays, we give away a promotional tote from the end of October until inventory runs out. It’s really simple. Customers spend $50 and they get a free holiday promo tote. People collect them and come in every single year. Our design team does a great job so people want to know what the year’s tote is. At the register, people say, ‘I’m 10 dollars away, so I’ll get this.’ It’s an incentive to keep engaged.”

Let the market drive new ideas

Daniel Mejak, operations manager at gift shop Parkleigh in Rochester, New York


(Photo: Parkleigh)

“We invent promotions either to boost a new brand, pump more steam into a trending category or to breathe new life into a product category that is adversely affected by the marketplace. For example, our Coffee Club (buy 10 pounds, the next $10 is on us) was born because of rising coffee prices that were beyond our control. Our Free Stamp Mondays were inspired by the shift in greeting card sales because of the advent of the internet and email. Funky Sock Friday was inspired by a news article that reported that men working on Wall Street were jazzing up their Friday outfits with colorful socks. Now, once a month if you wear your own fun socks in our store and show them to us that day, you get 20 percent off your sock purchase. Be open to ideas from anywhere in the world, anywhere in the marketplace, any fun sentence you hear out there in the world.”

Pair discounts with in-store “pop-up” shops

Mackenzi Farquer, owner of lifestyle store Lockwood in Astoria, New York


(Photo: Lockwood)

“Discounts far and away get the people into my store. We love to do a discount day event offering double loyalty points, some food and drink and a fun in-store “pop-up shop.” We’ve had lots of fun pop-ups with local jewelry designers like Emilie Shapiro, interactive demos with a nearby florists at Petals & Roots that taught terrarium arranging, and even recreated a coffee shop in our backyard with Native Coffee Roasters. Working with local neighborhood makers can really draw a crowd. I think there’s a lot of competition in New York for people’s time and attention, so we like to change things up and keep them fresh. A discount plus a fun local maker seems to do the trick.”

Use annual sales instead of discounts

Michelle Willey, owner of lifestyle boutique Willey in Boston


(Photo: Willey)

“I think promotional pricing, giveaways, and discounts can cheapen one’s brand and create a customer-base who is looking for a deal or thinks a store’s prices are inflated. Some stores are even seeing downward trends because of overuse of promotions. Since we do not really offer discounts, our two annual sales are highly anticipated by local customers who have signed up for our mailing list and used to sell off seasonal items. We use it to thank our customers for their patronage by offering a one-time discount on various store staples, like our plush cotton towels or linen sheets. Customers like the sale and aren’t concerned that something will be on sale next week.”

Turn holidays into events

Stephanie Edwards, manager of ecommerce, social media and marketing at Enjoy: An Urban General Store, Chicago


(Photo: Enjoy: An Urban General Store)

“Our most successful promotions are our free in-store events that we host in conjunction with our neighborhood chamber of commerce’s trick-or-treating that encourages local businesses to hand out candy to kids on the Saturday of Halloween. We wanted to capitalize on having so much foot traffic in the neighborhood and make customers want to come into our store and stay and shop. On Halloween, we feature free kids’ concerts by local musician Laura Doherty. The front of our store becomes a sea of toddlers and preschoolers in costumes with their parents and families. It’s impossible to walk by our store on that day and not know that something fun is happening inside.”

Use raffles at retail shows

Kristin Timmerman, accessories company Bonita Pina, Matthews, North Carolina


(Photo: Bonita Pina)

“One successful promotion that we have used is offering a raffle prize at retail shows. We count an entry as either a form filled out in person with pertinent contact information or an action on social media, such as a ‘like’ on our Facebook page. This allows us to grow our social media base of followers, who we hope will either refer new people to us or become customers themselves.”

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