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:
VERY IMPORTANT THING NUMBER 1
Promotions give you something to talk to your customers about on a day to day, week to week, month to month basis. They can put jet fuel in your Promotional Events. If you’ve read my guide to Very Small Business Marketing you know that talking to your customers – whether directly or online – is the key to growing footfall and growing basket size. Promotions are the bread and butter of those conversations.
VERY IMPORTANT THING NUMBER 2
Promotions reassure customers that YOU care about price. You are not there to just “pile it up 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 the suppliers. You are getting your customers the best price, a fair price, even a cheap price. In focussing on quality or taste, fine food shops often 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: Sales Promotions
What are sales promotions?
Sales 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 sales promotion 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. This may not be monetary value, but it usually is.
Here is a good list of some standard 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!|
|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!|
|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|
|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|
|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|
These 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 key to good business.
- 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.
The last step in any marketing campaign is the promotion. Promotions change customer behaviour. Use them to change customer behaviour to your advantage.
Chapter 2: Seasonal Promotions
Seasonal promotions have become more and more important as food moves from being a, well, food, to becoming an experience. Seasons are the tent pole events in your promotional calendar. “Seasonal” refers to events which are calendar focussed and not specific to a person or family. Christmas is the big one, but Summer, Valentine’s Day, National Apple Day, Wimbledon, Chilli Week, are all seasonal events.
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.
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
|Convert||Increase your basket sizes by offering an additional temporary offer||Possible promotions: Strong focussed, 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|
|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 for a 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:
- 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
- Gifts. Food and food-related gifts are also great for building turnover.
Which seasonal events should we be looking at?
|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.|
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|
|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.
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:
|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, plus focussed traffic-driving occasions like Valentine’s Day or Wimbledon.
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.
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.
- Planning Promotions
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.
Planning your promotions
Time to plan your year ahead.
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 focussed, 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.
Once you have a firm promotion in place, bank it for next 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.
So how do you plan your promotions?
- Establish your 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 focussed 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.
- Define your seasons. 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 focussed 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.
- Add your Promotional Events. 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.
Your Promotional calendar
You now have your Shop Calendar, sometimes called your 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 begins|
|March to mid-April||Easter||Local customers; visitors Easter||Easter 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|
Running Promotional events
For each Promotional Event we will need a checklist:
- What is your Promotional Event Name: give your event a name if it doesn’t have one already
- What is your goal: what is the Promotional Event trying to achieve (my advice is to keep this really simple)
- What is your Budget: for stock and for promotion
- 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
- What does success look like: measure against your goal(s) above (again, I would suggest that you keep this really simple)
- 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
- Identify promotions and customer incentives to achieve your goal: from the list above and from opportunities offered by suppliers
- Artwork: give the event a visual identity
- A channel review: how are you going to broadcast what you are planning, who is going to do it and when?
- Brief your team: make sure they know what is going on and what they need to do to support the promotion
- 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?
- 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
- Completion day – coming off the floor: when does the promotion end?
- 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.
Will you do it again? Have a post-event review, take notes and if it worked, mothball it for next year.
Promotions can be done very simply – a discount on a shelf item is very valuable in driving up sales. But more powerful are promotional incentives embedded in wider events. Product promotions – customer incentives to act – are the fuel in the event, the petrol in the car, they drive customer footfall and sales. They are how you 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.