Caution: Promotion Fatigue Ahead

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It’s started! Ready or not the onslaught of holiday shopping promotions are here and they are earlier and bigger than ever. This week alone I’ve received six “Pre-Black Friday” promotional emails.  It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving and I’m already feeling a little overwhelmed.

Why the Frenzy?

The National Retail Federation forecasts a 3.7% increase in spending over last year. Combined with the Weather Channel’s mild forecast for November and December we have the makings of a busy shopping season.

If you are a retailer you want to capture as many of those dollars as you can before they go somewhere else. And according to an Experian Deal Seekers study, 45% of buyers are motivated by promotions. That alone is good reason to drive incentives.

But have promotions become an overused, default tactic?

Too Much of A Good Thing?

Is our quest to capture the mighty dollar driving bad advertising behavior? Is it possible to have too many promotions? I believe, not only is the answer yes, but that as an industry we’re dangerously close to hitting the threshold weeks before the heaviest part of the shopping season.

When my children were very young and I had to travel for work I’d bring them home a little treat. Often it was some silly gadget I picked up at a trade show booth. They loved them. Every time I came home from travel they welcomed me with knowing eyes, waiting for their surprise. It didn’t take long for the sparkle of joy to wear off. The boys had gotten used to the reward and it was less and less exciting. The same principle applies to our shopping behavior. If every time I open my email there is another discount, that looks just like the last one, I start to ignore all the messages knowing there will be yet another one tomorrow or the next day.

It’s the unexpected that captures human attention. Random rewards keep us motivated when placed at critical junctures of our interactions with a brand. Scientists call this a “variable reward”, and it’s the same psychology used to hook people at casinos. Without using a variable reward strategy we’re training our would be customers to expect, and therefore ignore, our discount communications.

Hit the Right Balance

This does not mean promotions don’t work. Yesmail studied 2013 and 2014 emails from 50 brands and showed the ideal time to promote “Black Friday” email promotions to optimize for open rates.Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 3.10.09 PM

Too early and your emails are deemed irrelevant. Although emails sent the Monday before Black Friday have the  largest open rates, they also had the highest delete-after-open rate.

Too close to the holiday and you miss the chance to capture your audience’s mind share.

With proper segmentation, timing and a limited number of relevant outreaches, your emails can be effective.




Consider Alternatives to Discounts

Beyond timing communications correctly, we often forget promotions are not the only tool in our bag of tricks. The Experian study  spotlighted six different types of consumers. Whether the shopper was highly influenced by promotions or deal averse, remarkably, price was not in the top three consideration for where they shopped. Brand, environment and convenience were always above price. Lucky for us we can do something about environment and convenience without a lot of turn around time.

Environment  Holiday music, organized & well-stocked shelves and festive decorations are expected. Imagine the impression you’ll leave when you surprise your guests with unexpected treats. I’m a big fan of “random acts of cookies”! But you could also invite a local chorus to come sing holiday songs or set up a make your own stocking station. Perhaps give out a toasty cup of hot chocolate or invite children to add to a homemade garland. The possibilities are endless.

Convenience As a busy mother of four boys holiday shopping is often made in quick bursts between 16 other items on my to-do list. Anything that can drive convenience is a big plus for me, but also for many shoppers. The simplest of planning can make all the difference. Have staff at the ready to answer questions and reach tall shelves. Provide gift wrapping stations. Maybe even go crazy and  design a mobile app that links your shopping list to a GPS layout of the store. I’d sure use that one!

Whatever you plan this holiday season, make sure it is a well-balanced approach to meeting all of your customers needs.

Happy holidays to all and to all a good shopping!