Why do promotions in the first place?

Promotions change customer behaviour and are the last step in any marketing campaign. Used well, they can change customer behaviour to your advantage and help you to improve your sales.
Within your customer groups, there will be different types of people, and promotions will motivate them differently. Some of your more casual customers won’t care, and a bargain will just top up their shop or get them to try something new. At the other end of the spectrum, more astute customers may only buy from your shop if they feel they are getting a deal somewhere in their basket.
Promotions can be summarised, therefore, as trying to:

  • Attract new customers
  • Increase basket sizes, and 
  • Make your customer come back more often.

But there are two more very important things I want to highlight about promotions:


Promotions give you something to talk to your customers about on a day to day, week to week, month to month basis. Filling and maintaining those conversations is key to keeping you at the forefront of your customers mind – don’t let them wander off. Promotions are not the only things you should be talking about, but they are the meat in the sandwich, the call to action, the worm on the hook.


Promotions reassure customers that YOU care about price. You are not there to just “pile it high and sell it expensive”. You are on the customers’ side. It changes the relationship from you taking money from them, to you being on their side against an expensive world. You are getting your customers the best price, a fair price, even a cheap price. When fine food shops focus solely on quality or taste they forget this.

Embedding these two messages in everything you do creates a culture in your shop that you are finding the best price for the best products for your customers. Very John Lewis. That will roll out through your merchandising, your social media, and your team to your customers. It will bring loyalty and sales to your shop.

Chapter 1: Types of Promotion

What are Promotions?

Promotions make people buy. More specifically, they attract potential customers to your shop, convert people to buy in your shop and retain customers to come back later to your shop.

Just about anything counts as a Promotion or a Promotional Event if you can put a splashy red sign about it and advertise it. It is about appearing to offer the customer extra value against the standard offer. A Sales Promotion is the subset of Promotions which have money off or discount value. Most people think of Sales Promotions first when trying to change customer behavior, so lets look at those first.

Here is a good list of some standard Sales Promotions:

Promotions  What is it  An example 
Money off the standard price  The most straight forward of all the promotions – money in £s off the standard price  £1 off every jar! 
% off the standard price  Probably the most common sales promotions – a discount expressed as a % off the standard price  25% off! 
Bundle buys/buy together/multibuy  This is where you get a discount if you buy a group of items together. Usually, the items are related  Buy one of our ceramic camembert bakers and get a Camembert de Normandie half price 
Bulk buys  An incentive to buy in large quantities  Buy a case of wine and get a bottle free! 
Family packs  A particular type of bulk buy designed to appeal to families. The pack is larger than average and suitable for a family and cheaper per kg or litre than a smaller pack. The word family pack forces the assumption into the buyer they are getting some sort of deal without explicitly saying what it is  Cheddar family pack 500g 
Sale!  Another non-explicit promotion that suggests that something somewhere is being sold more cheaply than normal. Often the sale items are only a small section of the Store  Sale!   End of season clearance.   Large discounts! 
BOGOFs/Two for ones  BOGOFs are well known as buy one and get one free. These kill margin for the retailers, so very often the retailer has got a substantial discount from the supplier to make the promotion viable  Buy one brownie and get one free 
An extra freebie – could be a recipe or a free jute bag   This is either a straight-up bribe to buy the first product, and a promotion to get awareness for the second product.  A free hessian bag when you spend over £50; or buy over £20 of our beef and get a free jar of Horseradish. 
Special packaging, such as seasonal or gift packaging  This promotion re-presents existing products in a way that adds extra value. There will often not be a price advantage, and it is not unusual for the specially packaged products to be more expensive.  Try our Chilli Week Hot Sauce collection! 3 Jars beautifully packaged for £9.99! 
Money off a future purchase  A voucher is received that can be redeemed at a future (often time-limited) time. This is a very powerful Retain promotion, as the voucher can only be taken advantage of in a next visit.  Spend more than £50 this Christmas and receive a £5 voucher to spend in January 
A future freebie with a purchase  The customer receives a voucher for a freebie that can only be redeemed at a future time  Buy your stilton from us this Christmas and get a free coffee for two vouchers to spend in January 
Whole basket discounts  A discount on a whole basket for people who either have a voucher or fall within a specific group  5% off for all Senior citizens!  Just show us your bus pass! 
Staff discounts  Staff discounts are very common. They have great value in encouraging your team to try the foods they sell every day  5% staff discount  10% staff discount if you have been with us for over a year.  20% staff discount if you have been with us for over 5 years 
Special prices for Loyalty club members  Use discounts to reward club members, get new members, introduce new lines and so much more. These are your best customers, make them evangelists for your icon products  Members discount this month! Our new Fruit Cheese from Global Harvest. 10% off for Loyalty cardholders 

Now here is a good list of some non-Sales Promotions:

Promotions  What is it  An example 
Vouchers  Vouchers are pre-payments for future purchases usually given as gifts  Buy a £20 voucher for the cheese lover in your life this Father’s Day! 
Hampers  Hampers are extremely popular and promotion of everything you sell all in themselves. Usually, you do not have to discount them, and you must include the costs of wrapping materials and time  Try our Mother’s Day Hamper!  (PS you’ll still have to call her) 
Tasters  Tasters should be available for something all day every day. They don’t need to be plated up, they can be served by a team member. The important thing is that tasters offer themselves, or are offered to, the customer  The Irish just beat the English in the 6 nations! Try Ireland’s best blue cheese Cashel Blue to celebrate 
Good merchandising in Store  There is nothing like a good merchandising display to make people stop and stare. Merchandising is the most physical form of promotion  It’s Valentine’s!   Look at our wonderful Valentine’s gift selection that is guaranteed to make your loved one love you more 
Window Display  An extension of merchandising, windows are your best shop window to new customers and people out browsing. (It never ceased to amaze me the people who walked down my high street after hours looking in windows)  People make special pilgrimages every year to the Fenwicks’ Christmas window display 
Rare, seasonal or specialist products  If you have products with limited availability, promote it. Rarity sells   Our own Gravadlax – buy it before it’s all gone.    We only have 20 Montgomery baby cheddars this Christmas – order while stocks last 
Tastings with the Producer  If you can get a Producer to come and do an inStore tasting, promote it. They know more about the product and are often very happy to come and sell to your customers. If you can get regular tastings into your Promotional Calendar your customers will begin to make special trips to be there as well  Tasting in Store this Saturday!  Pete the Greek’s Houmous and Taramasalata. You won’t taste better outside Greece   
A competition  Customers love a competition. They are very cheap to run, are brilliant on social media and can be focussed on almost any goal  Loyalty Club Weekly Draw!   This week’s prize: 300g of Gorgonzola and a packet of Peters Yard Biscuits.  Check your number above the counter. 
Specials: e.g. Guest Cheese of the week/Panini of the Day  Specials are used very widely to draw attention in advertising and are very effective online  Sign up to our Facebook page for our Soup and Panini of the Day notifications 
Loyalty cards  Loyalty clubs are massively underused because Stores think they require a lot of admin. They can be done very simply and open up a highway of communication  Join our loyalty club and get invites to our Members’ events, special prices on best-selling lines, early-bird discounts and our extra special loyalty points scheme 
Redeemed loyalty points  Make sure your club members redeem their loyalty points! It’s what binds them to you  Train all your team to ask of every customer if they want to redeem their loyalty points at checkout 

Chapter 2: Goals – What Promotions are for

Promotions are what the customer sees. They are common and will motivate customers, but let us look behind the curtain and ask what the shop gets out of it. When you structure your promotions (in your campaigns), knowing what your goal is is the key to good business.

Some typical goals:

  • Increase sales (well of course…)
  • Increase sales at slow periods – in January, between 10 and 12 in the morning (think happy hour)
  • Increase your Gross Margin
  • Get customer names, addresses and email addresses
  • Get existing customers to bring their friends
  • To build loyalty on a particular (unique to you?) product line
  • Get customers who have never been in before to visit your Store
  • Increase basket size
  • Get the customer to try a new product
  • Increase customer loyalty
  • Increase the frequency of visits by customers
  • Get Christmas customers to come in in January
  • Appeal to older customers
  • Appeal to younger customers
  • Appeal to commuters, school mums, tourists – whichever group you think is the next big thing for your shop
  • Pre-empt customers buying their port and cheese from Waitrose
  • Remind your customer you are the best place to get the best products every week
  • Dispel a “posh shop” image

Your goals shape your promotions. 

You can now see that the promotion is the last step in any marketing campaign. Promotions change customer behaviour. Use them to change customer behaviour to meet your goals.

Chapter 3: Promotional Events

We need a structure to apply Promotions and the goals we want them to achieve. We call these Promotional Events. Promotions Events have become more and more important as food moves from being a, well, food, to becoming an experience.

Promotional Events are the tent pole events in your promotional calendar.

Seasonal events have the biggest and plannable catchment, making them easy to deliver and easy to get support from Suppliers for. Most importantly, there will be other businesses marketing seasonal events, so getting attention for your promotions won’t be such an uphill challenge.

Seasonal Goals 

Here is a summary of what we want to achieve from a seasonal promotion:

  Existing customers  New customers 
Attract    Get new customers who are interested in the event to come to your shop  
Convert  Increase basket sizes by offering an additional temporary offer  Get your new visitors to buy 
Retain  Get your customers to come more often for your seasonal events  Get your new customers to return for other products or events 

For seasonal events, your target audience (new and existing customers) are going to buy from somewhere. Your job is to make them buy from you. 

Types of Seasonal Promotions most used in Food & Drink retailing 

Existing customers 

  Goal  Promotion 
Convert  Increase your basket sizes by offering an additional temporary offer  Possible promotions: 
– Strong focused, well-merchandised offer in Store 
– Early bird offer 
– Loyalty discount on limited lines 
– Limited availability promotion on some lines 
Retain  Get your customers to come more often for your seasonal events  Possible promotions: 
– Promote on social media 
– In-basket flyers 
– Invite-only open evening(s) 
– Limited period discounts 

New customers 

  Goal  Promotion 
Attract  Get new customers who are interested in the event to come to your shop   Possible promotions: 
– Social media advertising of new range 
– Social media vouchers to redeem in 
– Store Window display advertising 
– A-frames in a different part of town with an event or discount incentive 
Convert  Get your new visitors to buy  Possible promotions: 
– Seasonal multi-buy 
– Discounts/”Save”/Money off  Tastings 
Retain  Get your new customers to return for other products or events  Possible promotions: 
– Voucher/discount in the month following your event 
– Discount on a product if they join your loyalty club 

What seasonal events and promotions are there? 

There is no end to the number of seasonal holidays, but some are very much better than others. [In my experience], the ones that work best are the ones that have a strong existing following in your area, so it is less of an uphill battle to get people to pay attention to it. 

Good seasonal events will deliver two things: 

  1. A time for people to gather and share a meal. This is great for Fine Food Shops, as the people will often trade up to get the best things for their friends and family; AND 
  2. Gifts. Food and food-related gifts are also great for building turnover. 

Which Promotional Events should we be looking at? 

Events come in four categories:

  • Seasons
  • Recognized holidays
  • Cultural Events 
  • Lifestyle Events

Retail Seasons are different to the actual seasons i.e. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. For most businesses’ seasons are focussed on the ebb and flow of their customers. 

Here is the seasonal calendar I used to use: 

Period  Season 
January to February  Spring term  
March to mid-April  Easter 
Mid-April to end of June  Summer term 
July & August  Summer  
September to mid-October  Winter 
Mid October to December  Christmas 

Each season will have its own seasonal stock list with promotions scattered through it relating to seasonal stock lines. 

Recognised holidays

Recognised holidays refer to national events which are calendar focused and not specific to a person or family. They may not actually involve a holiday. Christmas is the big one, Valentine’s Day, National Apple Day.

CHRISTMAS  Yes, this is the big one. Christmas runs from at least Half-term to the end of the Christmas Holidays, about the 4th January.  Worth about an extra month’s trading to most shops in December alone, often more.   Good for gifts and food sales. 
Easter  Not as big as Christmas, but still a good size. Good for gifts and food sales. 
Halloween  A tricky one this – it kicks off the Christmas season and can be quite prone to having lots of stock left. It’s a season for children in the main, not adults and there is very little feasting involved.  The best use of Halloween tends to be by Farm Shops, especially those that do Halloween related events. 
Valentine’s Day  Opportunities for both gifting and meals, but appealing to a much smaller market.  
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day  Opportunities for both gifting and meals. 
Cultural Events 

Cultural events are things like your local food festival, events linked to your community and the local area. These can be brilliant, with opportunities to put up stalls in extra locations and have double or even triple day sales. You may even wish to host your own events if you have the space to do so. 

Get involved as they often offer real opportunities to reach parts of your community who don’t usually visit your establishment so that you can engage them with the quality of your products, and price value. 

Customer Lifestyle  

From vegans to chilli champions, BBQ fanatics to cheese lovers, book groups to bridge clubs, bicycle pelotons to charity walks, there are numerous communities out there for you to reach. You may even give talks to your local Women’s Institute, the church roof group or the Rotary Club.  

These are windows into the consumer groups that are the bedrock of your role as an independent shopkeeper in your community. Giving discounts at events, or simply sponsoring or putting out flyers with promotions at these events can get long term customers every time.  

Introducing an event into your shop will change customer behaviour. This will lead directly or indirectly to more customers, either buying or visiting more often. Let’s look at how you do it in practice. 

Once you have a firm promotion in place, bank it for the following year. Next year, use your energy to add a new promotion in that period, confident you have one in the bag your team have the experience to make run smoothly and achieve your chosen outcomes. 

Nationally and internationally recognised days, weeks and months 

There are literally hundreds of Days, Weeks and Months. For example, in January 2020 alone, we have:

National Bloody Mary Day  1 January 
National Oatmeal Month  1-31 January 
National English Toffee Day  8 January 
National Popcorn Day  19 January 
National Cheese Lovers Day  20 January 
National Peanut Butter Day  24 January 
Breakfast Week  21-24 January 
Burn’s Night  25 January  
International Chocolate Cake Day  27 January 
National Croissant Day  30 January  
Veganuary?  1-31 January 
Dry January?  1-31 January 

Some have set dates (Burn’s Night) and others move around a bit so chose what will work for you and build up an event in your shop.  

Then plan some promotions to get more of your customer to celebrate with you. 

Top Tip: Every shop I know plans for more promotions than it actually delivers. You are much, much better doing a small number of promotions well, and keeping your team focused, than flitting from one event to another not getting the benefits from any.  And if your team don’t take them seriously, your customers won’t either. 

Planning you Stock accordingly 

What should we sell? Break your stock down into three groups:

  1.  Core stock. This is the range you keep in Store 12 months a year. This stock line will appeal to your regular customers and help shape the identity of your shop.  
    Promotions here will be focused on goals such as getting customers to come more often and spend more, building customer loyalty to your unique product range. Look for supplier discounts you can pass onto customers.  
  2. Seasonal Stock: For each season bring in a seasonal stock list. These will bring a layer of relevance to your core stock, such as ice cream in summer, cranberry sauce in winter. 
    Promotions here will be focused on goals such as giving your customer a range with specific seasonal relevance, an excitement for something new and opportunities to add to their basket. Supplier tastings work very well for these products as well. 
  3. Promotional Stock: Healthy eating e.g. Veganuary, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day; whichever ones suit your customers and your goals. Remember, it’s not just about making extra cash from your customers – attracting new customers is very important and events are a good way to do this. 
    For each event look at a smallish number of new stock lines to sell throughout that event. 
    Promotions here will be focussed on goals such as attracting new customers and giving your existing customers something to get excited about, a reason to visit more often. 

Chapter 4: Your Promotional calendar 

You have the Events, lets take the final step and build them into your annual Promotional Calendar.

Here is an example. 

Period  Season  Seasonal Focus  Promotional Events 
January to February  Spring term   Local customers  Eat Healthily  Burns Night; Valentine’s Day; Fairtrade Fortnight
March to mid-April  Easter  Local customers; visitors  Easter  Easter weekend; National Pie day; Mother’s Day 
Mid-April to end of June  Summer term  Local customers; children’s events  picnics  Community events  Schools events  April:  National Hamburger Month; Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day
May: May bank holidays; Local Food Festival
June:  World Gin Day; National Chocolate Pudding Day; Father’s Day; School sports days 
July & August  Summer   Tourists; families; holiday makers:  Shop Local, family meals, BBQs/outdoor eating  Wimbledon; World Chocolate Day; Summer evenings; Rose & Cheese; End of school year 
September to mid-October  Winter  Local customers; couples without children  Winter eating  Christmas lite  Organic September; Salami Day; Buy British Day; Halloween; Speaking and tasting events 
Mid October to December  Christmas  Everyone  Christmas  Early Bird Christmas orders; Order your hams, cheeses; Speaking and tasting events 

Remember just because something is a Day, doesn’t mean you can’t make it a Week or even longer. Christmas is one day, but for us it was 2-3 months.

Top tip: start small and let your Promotional Calendar grow organically. Running events is a skill you and your team need to learn, and with Promotional Events (like everything else in small retail and food service) we learn through doing. Treat every event as a learning experience to do more and better next time.

Chapter 5: Running Promotional events 

For each Promotional Event we will need a checklist: 

  1. What is your Promotional Event Name: give your event a name if it doesn’t have one already 
  2. What is your goal: what is the Promotional Event trying to achieve (my advice is to keep this really simple) 
  3. What is your Budget: for stock and for promotion 
  4. Who will be delivering the Promotion: which team members are participating and what are they tasked with doing? Ensure one person has overall responsibility (you?) for delivering the plan and reporting on its success 
  5. What does success look like: measure against your goal(s) above (again, I would suggest that you keep this really simple) 
  6. An event specific stock list: contact suppliers. Fewer lines piled high is usually better. Speak to your suppliers about getting a discount on some lines to promote in Store. Tell them what you are doing and they will very likely support you 
  7. Identify promotions and customer incentives to achieve your goal: from the list above and from opportunities offered by suppliers 
  8. Artwork: give the event a visual identity 
  9. A channel review: how are you going to broadcast what you are planning, who is going to do it and when? 
  10. Brief your team: make sure they know what is going on and what they need to do to support the promotion 
  11. Start day – going onto the floor: when does it go live, who is doing the merchandising on the shop floor and do they need any extra display items to add to their display? 
  12. Measure performance: make sure you have the tools to measure the success of the promotions according to what success looks like (again, keep this really simple):  take lots of pictures; keep notes; make sure you have a way to measure how many people take up your promotions; put on social media what is going on and how it is going 
  13. Completion day – coming off the floor: when does the promotion end? 
  14. A plan for the remaining stock: What are you going to do with remaining stock? Count it and repurpose it? Will you have a sale? 

Every month should include a Promotional Events meeting with your team: brief them on what they are doing this season, next month, and next week. Feedback to them what you have measured to date, and look for customer feedback. These meetings are the culture creating tool telling your team that finding the best products and best prices is what your shop is all about. 

And finally… 

Will you do it again? Have a post-event review, take notes and if it worked, mothball it for next year.   


Promotions – customer incentives to act – are the fuel in the event, the petrol in the car, they drive customer footfall and sales.  Promotions can be done very simply – a discount on a shelf item is very valuable in driving up sales. But more powerful are Promotions embedded in Promotional Events which themselves form part of an ongoing Promotional Calendar. This is how you keep your conversations with your customers alive and effective, and drive your business forward. 

Finally, we’d like to hear from you. What’s your favourite type of Sales Promotion, or which weird and wonderful Promotional Events have worked for you? Have you got any top tips you would like to share on how to get the most from your promotions? Let us know in the comments.