October 2

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Ecommerce Promotion Ideas: Your Guide to Successful Online Promotions

One of the many challenges in running an ecommerce store is coming up with new promotions to run. If you run the same promotions over and over again, your customers grow accustomed to them and they lose some of their power. 

Additionally, the same promotion doesn’t work on everyone. One customer may be incentivized by a buy one get one 50% off offer, while another customer is moved to buy when there’s a free gift with purchase.

Running a variety of promotions will help you gain a deeper understanding of what promotions work well with your customer base

This list originally started as a resource for myself when trying to come up with new promotion ideas to run on our website. As I’ve seen promotions run on other sites I’ve slowly expanded the list. Whenever I need to come up with a new promotion I’ll skim through this list and inevitably come up with something good. 

I invite you to use it in a similar way. Bookmark it and when you need a good promo idea, skim down the list. You’re bound to find something that sparks an idea.

And feel free to add your own ideas in the comment section. This article is a living document and I continue to expand on it whenever I see something else I like.

While most of the ideas on this list focus mainly on some type of discount promotion, it’s important to note that a promotion doesn’t always have to have a discount.

Sometimes a promotion is simply pushing a specific product or category of products. You’ll find some general ideas around these types of promotions below.

Discount Promotions

Dollar Off Order Total Discount

This is perhaps one of the simplest promotions to run. It’s exactly what it says, a dollar amount off of an order. This could be a fixed amount off any order size i.e. $5 off all orders.

 Or it could be based on a specific threshold i.e. $5 off all orders over $25. It’s also common to see a tiered $ off promotion such as $5 off $25+, $10 off $50+ or $20 off $75+ orders.

Percent Off Order Total Discounts

This is another extremely common type of promotion. This is a general 10% off everything in your cart type of promotion. Just like the dollar off promotion, it’s also common to see a tiered promotion which encourages people to increase their order size. For example: 10% off $100+ orders, 15% off $150+ orders or 25% off $250+ orders.

Free Shipping

This seems like it’s becoming a less common type of promotion since so many companies are offering it standard. Studies every year show that free shipping is something more and more consumers expect to be standard. 

However, you don’t have to offer free shipping on every order. Many ecommerce sites will offer free shipping over a specific threshold such as $50.

If your site already offers free shipping on a threshold basis, you can run special promos that lower the threshold or eliminate the threshold completely and offer free shipping on every order.

Product Specific Discounts

In many cases you just want to drive sales on one specific product. This may be because you have a great margin on it or you have excess inventory. This can take the shape as a percent off or a dollar discount.

You’ll almost always use strike-through pricing to show people what the price used to be so they see what kind of deal they are getting. 

If you’re running a percent of promotion make sure you show the new price, don’t make customers do the math to figure out what 15% off a $17.98 item.

Free Gift with Purchase 

This can be a more challenging promotional tool to plan and pull off but can be highly effective. A free item is included when a customer places an order. Generally customers are required to meet a specific order threshold, such as $100+ orders or buy a specific item.

Just make sure you have enough margin n that threshold that you'll cover the cost of the free item and then still make a profit.

These promotions can be even more effective when the free item is a limited edition one they cannot buy. It can also work well if it’s a collectors item from the brand. 

Doing one of these promotions once a quarter that then creates a set could be a great way to build customer loyalty. This is another effective tool when trying to get customers to increase their order size. 

Sign Up for Discount

If you’re trying to grow your email list, this is one of the most commonly used methods. Often at the bottom of a website or on a popup that appears, users are invited to get a discount when they submit their email address. 

It seems obvious but I still need to say it, getting someone's email is incredibly valuable. It allows you to build a relationship with that potential customer and hopefully convert them at some future date.

Channel Specific Promotion

When you have an audience on a variety of channels, you can run specific promotions to see what channels and promotion combo drive the best results. 

Running one discount on Instagram and another promotion on Facebook can help you see what kind of discounts those specific people on that channel respond to. 

You may discover that your Instagram followers love when you offer a gift with purchase while new customers who discover your site organically convert better with a percent off promotion.

Give a Discount get a Discount

This is a type of refer-a-friend promotion. We’ll give your friend $15 off their first order and when they purchase you’ll receive $15 off your next order. 

I think another interesting twist on this that I don’t think I’ve ever seen is, give a product get a product. Give a free pair of earrings with their first purchase and get a free pair for yourself on your next order.

Loyalty Points/Programs

A loyalty program is a promotion in and of itself. Customers can be rewarded with points for taking specific actions such as creating an account or following your brand on social media, or when purchasing products. These points can then be redeemed for discounts or free products.

Loyalty Program Promotions

There are a variety of promotions you can do when you have a loyalty program set up. One option is points multiplier on such as 2X points on all orders this weekend.

Or you can make it product or category specific such as 3X loyalty points when you purchase these sunglasses. Like a discount, this type of promotion can help you move more quantity of a specific product. 

You can also run refer-a-friend promotions using loyalty points. If one of your friends makes a purchase you’ll receive 500 points worth $15 off your next order. 

Volume Discounts

Volume discounts definitely don’t work for every brand but they can be effective when you have a product people may need multiples of. 

In the B2B space these are much more common as people may need 25 boxes of pens for their office or 20 new chairs. In the B2C space this may look like three t-shirts that, when purchased together, save the customer $10.

This can be very similar to bundling.

Bundling Promos

While volume discounts generally apply to purchasing multiples of the same product, bundling often combines several different products, often from different categories. 

Putting together several products and giving them one price when purchased together is a fantastic way to get customers to spend more while helping them get everything they need without having to dig through your site. 

This can work really well when you have products that match or fit well together. Like buy a game console, controller, and one game and save $40.

Subscription Discounts

When you sell products that need regular replenishment a subscription program can make a lot of sense. You can likely boost your conversion rate even more when you offer a discount for subscribing.

A general, “save 5% on every order when you subscribe” is one option. However, as you’ll often see in the subscription box world, you can also given discounts based on how long they subscribe up front.

Save $5 per month when you subscribe for 3 months, $10 per month when you subscribe for 6 months or $15 per month when you subscribe for 12 months. 

Flash Sales

If you have a product you want to move quickly a flash sale is one option. While specialized flash deal sites seem to be dissipating, this is a growing trend on Instagram with the launch of stories. 

I’ve seen quite a few brands run 24 hour sales using it as the launch tool. This can work really well if you have a large audience but could also work if you ran it as an ad. 

If you have a large email list you can also run a flash sale that way, giving this select group the chance to act quickly before the product sells out. Just be sure you have enough inventory based on your email list as you don’t want to inundate your customer service team with complaints that the item was sold out.

A word of caution on flash sales, however. There are some brands I've seen that overuse this particular promotional strategy. Every other email they send contains a "flash sale." A when you do that, it loses its power.

Run occasional flash sales and when you do run them, I think they should be short, no more than a couple of days. That way, every time you run a flash sale, your customers know they need to act now.

Abandoned Cart Reminders

This is a fairly basic promotion but an effective one. When someone comes to your website and adds items to the cart, if you have their email address, you can send them an email after a period of time reminding them about their order.

While not always necessary, you could also send them a discount to try and convince them to convert. Another way of running this is sending a "we saved your cart" email a day after they visited.

If they still haven't acted on that message after a couple of days, then send them a discount to see if that will move them to convert.

Buy N get N Free

Like volume discounting, this works really well when people will be purchasing multiple of an item. Often, however, it doesn’t have to be all the same product. It could instead be items from the same category such as buy three lipsticks and get one free.

BOGO Percent Off

Very similar to the above, the Buy One, Get One offer is an incredibly popular promotion, particularly in the apparel industry where margins can be high.

However instead of getting the second item for free, they may get a discount on the second item such as buy one pair of jeans and get 50% off on the second pair.

Affiliate Promotion

While an affiliate program in an of itself isn’t really a discount program, you can execute a variety of promotions through it.

Whenever you are running a special promotion you can push it out through your affiliates to help spread the word. You could also test the effectiveness of individual affiliates you are working with by running unique promotions through each one.

Gift Card with Purchase

When a customer makes a purchase, often at a specific threshold, they then receive a gift card that can be used on their next purchase. 

The beauty of this type of promotion is it means the customer has to come back and purchase again in order to use the gift card. If they forget to use it, or never come back you don’t lose any money. If they do come back and use it, you make money.

This will often look like, “spend $150 and receive a free $25 gift card.”

Influencer/Celebrity Promotion

This has been around for a long long time but has definitely grown easier to do with social media. Working with an individual influencer or group of influencers, you can have them showcase your product.

This can be as small as one individual post about it or it can be an ongoing sponsorship, similar to a brand ambassador. You can try to push the effectiveness of this promotion by supplying the influencer with a discount code they share with their audience. 

When trying to measure the effectiveness of an influencer promotion, giving out a coupon code to their audience can be a huge asset. It makes it so much easier to track what revenue came from which influencer.

Membership Discount

Similar to a loyalty program, people can sign up for deals for members only. In some cases, such as Costco, a membership is the only way you're able to shop.

 If you’d rather not lock every customer into your membership program, however, you can have a membership that gives people access to specific discounts, exclusive giveaways, etc.

You can require customers to pay for membership or leave it free but something they have to sign up for specifically.

Credit Card Discount

There are many retailers that offer their own store credit card. This can come with a discount on every purchase or additional points with every purchase. These are for your most loyal customers and you’ll probably see card holders purchasing on a regular basis.

Pre-Order Discount

If you launch specific products, you can run a sale for all the preorders. This is a great way to gauge the popularity of a product so you can have the appropriate amount in stock on launch day.

Event Based Discounts

If your company is going to a trade show or hosting/sponsoring some type of event, you may choose to run a specific deal during that period of time to try and entice new customers.

You can run the discount for attendees only or expand it to anyone who visits your website.

Military/Student/Senior/other Profession Discount

Giving a specific group of people a discount can be an incredible way to drive loyalty with your brand. The group of people will depend on who your target market is. If you’re an apparel brand you may want to consider a student discount as a way to engage younger people with your brand.

Hopefully they’ll stay loyal to you as they graduate and their income begins to grow. 

If your products are attractive to military members or first responders you should consider giving them a specific discount. There are companies out there that provide this data so you can determine if someone is actually a member of that group.

Name Your Price

This is a unique type of discount that only works for some brands/industries/products. You can give the customer the option to tell you what they are willing to pay for the product. You could establish a price floor that they have to pay more than but letting them name anything can work well.

 Another variation on this is to let customers name a price but it must be more than the previous person paid. This can give you a glimpse at what people are willing to pay as the price climbs.

Name your price promotions can work particularly well with small influencer led companies when the customer has a close relationship with the seller. 

Employee Pricing

Many companies will reward their employees with a unique discount. You’ll have to look at your margins closely to determine what the discount ought to be and you'll probably want to place limits on how often they can use the discount and how much product they can use it on. 

There may also be some top selling items that they simply aren’t allowed to use the discount on.

In-Store Pickup Promotions

If you offer in-store pickup to local customers this can be a great opportunity to get them to make additional purchases when they are in the store. You can do this by offering them a coupon that's only good for that day.

Old Navy is one brand that does this particularly well. When you go tot eh counter to pickup your online order they'll give you a coupon good for that day only (it's usually stapled to the bag). 

Gift Registry Discount

Anyone that’s ever signed up for a wedding or baby registry has probably seen this type of discount. As soon as the date has passed, retailers send out an email with a discount that can be applied on the unpurchased items still on the registry or anything else they may need.

Wish List Discount

If you have a wish list function on your website you may want to consider this type of promotion. After someone has had an item sitting on their wish list for a specific period of time, send them a discount code they can use to purchase.

You may not want to send a discount right away but that’s certainly an option.

Fundraiser/Donation Promotion

If there is a local charity your customers are passionate about this can be a great way to get them to shop while also making themselves feel good. One approach is to let customers donate a certain amount at checkout. 

You may not actually offer much of a discount with this offer. Instead, the thing driving purchases is simply that customers will be donating to a charity.

 You could also donate a percentage of profits to the charity. This is probably the better way to run this type of promotion. This doesn’t add any additional costs to the customer and lets them feel good about their purchase since it will do good.

Direct Mail Promotion

While postcards seem outdated to some, it can be an incredibly effective way to connect with your current customers or find new customers. Especially in an age when younger consumers rarely get paper mail.

A great example of this is Wayfair sending postcards to new home buyers with a 10% off offer with an expiration date.

If you decide to run a direct mail campaign make sure you also do split testing to see what offers or messaging yield a higher ROI.

Non Discount Promotions

Cross Promotion

While some products may work well bundled together, some products work better when you simply promote them next to items they fit well with. This may mean promoting a ball pump when someone is purchasing a basketball. 

Cross sells are often seen at the bottom of product pages or in shopping carts. You can incentivize the customer with a discount when they purchase both items, just like bundling.

Upsells

With an upsell, you are trying to convince the customer to buy a product that’s similar to the one they’re looking at or is already in their cart but that’s a little more expensive. This often looks like showcasing a higher end watch when they are looking at a mid priced one.


Hopefully this list of promotional ideas has helped inspire you with ideas for your next promotion. If there’s one I’ve missed feel free to add it in the comments below.

What promotion has been the most successful for you?


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