If you’re considering running a promotion over the holidays, have you stopped to work out if you can actually afford it?
It’s the right question to ask upfront because not every online store operates with profit margins that allow for discounts (let alone deep ones of 50% or more). Plus: setting up and running a promotion takes time, which is something new store owners don’t have in handfuls.
The good news is you don’t have to offer a discount to stand out during the holidays. You could do something as simple as offering free shipping or as little as a few dollars off (if certain order criteria are met).
We’ve picked four of tried and tested alternatives to deep discounts for sprucing up the holidays.
Before we dive in: let’s explore the question of whether you can afford to offer a discount in the first place.
Can you afford to offer a discount on all/any products?
There is a temptation to follow the lead of big stores (or perhaps the places you frequent) and slash prices during the holidays because « everyone else is doing it ».
The truth is that you might not be able to afford it. It comes down to your product margins (or available budget to invest in running your promotion). You should have good look at your product costs, operating costs, and product pricing. If this sounds very foreign, read this post on measuring eCommerce profitability.
Focussing on revenue (the money generated from sales) instead of profitability could harm your business. Can you afford to discount any of your items, even by 5% or 10%?
If so, you have yourself a holiday promotion. If not, don’t worry — there are plenty of other ways to attract customers during the holidays.
Keep in mind that customers might not even consider a discount the most attractive offer, because something like free shipping or a « bonus » product might be more important to them.
4 Ways to Run a Holiday Promotion Without a Deep Discount
1. Reduce a customer’s order total if they spend over a certain dollar amount
It’s one thing to cringe at the thought of offering a few dollars off a single product — that’s hard-fought profit, we can all relate. But when an order rises above a single product into four or five, or above a certain dollar amount… maybe you can afford to be generous.
Here’s something you can try: offer an instant savings off a customer’s order total if they spend a certain amount. So for example, take $10 off if a customer spends $100 or more. It doesn’t seem like much to you, but that’s a huge 10% to them.
You can set up a rule per-product if you have some high-priced items (with healthier margins) like laptops, tools, or furniture, or sitewide if all of your products come in at around the same. « Save $50 instantly on futons $500 and up. » « $35 off all laptops. » Again — not a deep discount to you, but it’s certainly appealing to a shopper!
This offer works because it still promises savings, and because the customer doesn’t have to work for it. It’s instantly given. You look generous, and your margins stay intact.
It’s easy to set this up with an extension like WooCommerce Dynamic Pricing.
2. Try « buy x, get one free » deals (where x is > 1)
BOGO sales — that is, « buy one, get one free » sales — are always popular. Virtually everyone likes getting something free. It’s why swag is so popular at trade shows and conventions.
The thought of giving away a full-price item for free, though… it’s not for everyone. Especially not small stores, or shops with limited inventory.
Instead of BOGO, you could aim for a variation: « buy some, get one free. » The « some » can be any amount of your choosing and is entirely dependent on your margins. If you sell men’s ties, maybe you can afford to give one away for free after three. If you sell fine men’s shirts, maybe six is the point at which one should be free.
This can be a tricky one, because it’s still bordering on a deep discount. After all, you’re giving something away for free — you’re essentially losing profit on one of those items. But there are ways to make it work:
- Only offer « buy one, get one » on items with the healthiest margins
- Limit the offer to the lowest priced items in your store
- Only use this offer on items where you’re not concerned about earning a profit — for example, this would be awesome for seller of used books, or a shop owner clearing out discontinued merchandise!
- Limit the offer only to club members, or even to members who have already spent a specific amount/are in a specific membership tier — this is a great non-holiday idea, too
Another idea: « buy x, get a free gift »
If you don’t like the idea of giving away a full-price product for free — or it’s simply not practical for your store — consider giving away something of a lower value and marketing it as a free gift.
Cosmetic and fragrance companies do this all the time when they offer a « free gift with a purchase of x. » For example, if a customer buys $50 in their new perfume or skincare line, they get a specially branded tote bag or clutch.
Think about how you could adapt this for your own store. Spend $50 on new sneakers and get a pair of shoelaces for free? Buy $100 in cosmetics and take home a carrying case? Purchase a new laptop and we’ll throw in a mouse? All good ideas.
Make sure that the « free gift » is desirable, and ideally something that can’t normally be purchased in your store. Free shoelaces aren’t really compelling on their own, but if they’re branded to the shoe, limited edition, or glow-in-the-dark? That’s better.
3. Offer « smart » discounts for customers if certain criteria are met
We recently talked about the convenience of « smart » discounts for the holidays, and some of the suggestions made in that post could also be applied to a store that’s looking to avoid slashing their product prices. The idea of offering a discount on multiple items from the same category is a specific one you might want to look at.
To recap, a smart discount is one that’s applied automatically based on the contents of your customer’s shopping cart, and doesn’t require any special coupon codes or extra actions. You set it up once based on specific criteria, and it runs until you shut it off.
If customers are likely to purchase multiple items from the same category — or even multiples of the very same item — this tactic might work for you. You can set a comfortable point at which the discount applies, plus the discount amount.
So if « buy three ties, get one free » doesn’t work, but « buy three ties, save $10 on your order » will, this is the way to go.
4. Everyone loves free shipping!
If you really don’t have wiggle room with your margins — or don’t have time to set up special product promotions — there’s still one thing you can do to attract customers: make their shipping free.
Even a flat $5 fee can be seen as too much when people are on holiday shopping budgets. Consider waiving the fee over a certain amount for your holiday shoppers — say, for orders of $50 or more.
You can set this up in WooCommerce Settings > Shipping – read more.
Decide Which Approach is Right For Your Store
We’ve offered a lot of advice on different holiday promotions in this post. As you’ve learned, there are plenty of options out there that aren’t deep discounts.
Your customers choose to shop with you for plenty of reasons. They care about much more than whether or not you can offer them a great deal. To many of them, your shipping, customer service, and product quality is far more important than a simple holiday sale.
We encourage you to explore some alternate promotional options, and not to worry too much if you can’t join in on the crazy 50% off holiday sales. At the end of the day, finding what’s right for your customers is what matters — and they’ll appreciate you going the extra mile instead of simply slashing prices.
Have any questions about holiday promotions? Or any advice of your own to pitch in? We’re keen to hear from you in the comments.