The dictionary definition of seasonal promotions is as follows:
The sales team is focusing on seasonal promotions for Halloween and Christmas.
If you’re thinking about fall seasonal promotions, consider sponsoring your local fall festival.
Seasonal promotions are items marketed to customers at the appropriate time of year, such as coats in the winter and bathing suits in the summer.
– Collin’s English Dictionary
Are seasonal specials and holiday deals worth it? Doesn’t it become a race to the bottom – a price war? If you don’t do it, are you pricing yourself out of the market? If the product and the price is properly packaged, then seasonal specials make sense for many a marketer. Cyber Monday broke US records with $7.9 billion USD in online sales (CNET). Read on to learn how to grab your piece of the pie with promotional pricing strategies that work and some mistakes that you should avoid.
There is no need to re-invent the wheel. Many brands out there are creating great seasonal menus or offerings. Check out your competitive marketplace and learn from the best. Copy the ideas and adapt them to your specific business.
For example, Starbucks does seasonal specials right. People don’t refer to Starbucks fall drinks menu, it’s Pumpkin Spice Latte Season. It is so iconic, spin-offs of this seasonal special have started to appear, from pumpkin-flavoured M&Ms to pumpkin spice latte hair colour. During Pumpkin Spice Latte season, customers express their #PSL enthusiasm with an average of more than 3,000 tweets per day. A drink gone viral.
What makes the pumpkin spice latte such a runaway success story? Three things, actually. It’s:
It’s conjures up the senses and evokes Halloween. Childhood memories of carving pumpkin by a cosy crackling fire. Spices that warm you to the bone when the air gets a chilly bite. Happy harvests and warm autumnal colours.
It’s a limited edition. The Pumpkin Spice Latte comes into seasonal just once a year. When fall hits, it’s what we’ve been trained to crave. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing though. Starbucks nips this in the bud and moves onto the next seasons’ limited edition goodies – think Dark Cherry Mocha, Toffee Nut Crunch Latte, Festive Cold Brew– and Pumpkin Spice Latte is just another happy memory…
It’s a bit more than your regular coffee – it’s limited edition, after all, and a small price to pay for that warm, cosy feeling. It is an affordable indulgence. In its 2014 release, Starbucks stated that they’d sold 200 million of the seasonal lattes; BuzzFeed pumped that number up to 350 million in a 2017 report. By that estimate, the PSL — which starts around $4 — has brought in $1.4 billion in sales since 2003. (https://mic.com/articles/190963/pumpkin-spice-latte-2018-sales-how-much-money-does-it-make-for-starbucks#.VYRddJmVD)
Starbucks does not need to reduce the pricing on the Pumpkin Spice Latte. It’s so desirable, rare and reasonably priced, that it has become a cult drink. Other successful seasonal sales items use different pricing tactics. Learn more below…
- Comparative Pricing
Let’s take a look at Amazon’s best-selling items on Cyber Monday. In recent years the Echo Dot has been amongst the top-sellers. How has it maintained its Cyber Monday best-seller status? The 40-50% discount certainly helps but that’s not all. It’s cleverly placed next to the Echo, which has slightly more features, for a slightly higher price, with a slightly lower discount of only 30%. The Echo is placed next to Echo Plus, which has one or two more features, an even higher price and zero discount. This makes the Echo Dot the cheapest, with the largest discount – who could resist such a bargain? Comparative pricing strategy places similar products side by side with different pricing.
2) Visually Show the Discount
A picture says a thousand words. This is an easy and commonly used one pricing trick. Display the original price and cross it out. It’s often used for Christmas sales, online discounts, basically any price promotion and that’s because it works. Potential customers can see and be enticed by the discount at a glance.
3) Buy One, Get One Free
This plays on basic, human greed. One is probably enough but if the other one is free, why not? It works better than 50% off an item because it uses the magic word – FREE. How can you resist? 63% of consumers said they would pick BOGO over a discount. This is a great promotion pricing strategy to use when you have excess inventory of an item that you want to get through fast. The customer gets their freebie and you free up shelf space for your new product or service. Win-win.
A cautionary note, do not do a BOGO on your cheapest, lowest margin item. The idea is still to make some profit. Starbucks does it right. For their Christmas BOGO, which they cleverly market as getting an extra coffee for a friend or colleague during the giving season, is only available on their premium, secret menu, Christmas drinks:
- Caramel Brulee latte
- Peppermint Mocha
- Gingerbread Latte
- Eggnog Latte
- Chestnut Praline Latte
If it does not make financial sense to offer the second item completely free, then play around with the deal. Buy one, get second half price. Buy X, get Y free, where Y is something of equal or lesser value. Y can be something as small as free shipping: spend over a certain amount and get free shipping.
This style of offer works well in the restaurant industry where there are easy upsells. Buy one, get one free deals on a Monday, Two-fer Tuesdays – generally the two slowest days in the restaurant business. Some smart versions of these are buy one get one free on the burger, no fries or drinks included, these are purchased for full-price and are also high margin items. It also works well in the hotel industry. Stay 2 nights and get the third free and assume customers are going to spend within the hotel on things like breakfast, room service, spa services, etc.
4) Charm Pricing A.K.A. the Magic Number 9
$199 is more attractive than $200, right? This is known as the magic number nine. In studies, it has been shown that customers have a preference for pricing that ends in an odd number. People are more likely to buy at $199 than $198 despite the saving. According to the theory, reduce the left-hand number by one and then end it in a nine.
5) Prestige Pricing
Certain items do not benefit from charm pricing style promotions. For example, a jumbo bag of Hershey’s Kisses chocolates may retail for $28.95 but a luxury box of Godiva Holiday chocolates is $125. Godiva are not looking for the bargain-hunters and people who may be influenced by psychological pricing. They want customers to see the value in buying a luxury product based on the product’s taste, packaging, perceived luxury. $124.99 does not look luxurious. Chocolates are a gift .99 is seen as a sales price and can cheapen the product. Notice how Hershey’s still end the pricing with an odd number.
THE ANATOMY OF A GOOD DEAL
There are certain tactics that can be used alongside the pricing strategies and tactics outlined above. Here are some of the tactics commonly used by marketers.
- Create a Sense of Urgency
A sense of urgency can be created by putting a timeline on things. This is how seasonal items like the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte stay popular and build up anticipation. The same applies to the Chinese Singles Day, China’s answer the Black Friday/Cyber Monday. It’s on 11th November (11:11) and is one day of frenzied online shopping, with many a bargain-hunter staying up all night to get the best one day online deals they can find. Its limited time offers break records year on year. Singles Day 2018 smashed all previous sales and came in at a whopping $30.8 billion USD in revenue, over 4X the amount sales from Cyber Monday 2018 -in one day! Flash sales work. It’s the whole basis for companies like Groupon.
A word of warning, flash sales are not sustainable. They can be used to create awareness of new product or service, clear old inventory, offer a seasonal special to keep in front of the eyes of the customer. The volume provided by these special dates makes them profitable.
2) Create a Sense of Obligation
Use phrases like ‘our gift to you’, ‘complimentary’, or straight up, reverse psychology ‘no obligation’. Phrases like this are proven tactics to sell customers on a deal and guilt them into coming back for more when the deal is over. You’ve given them a tantalizing, limited time offer, that is too good to miss, now they owe you some no discount bucks. It is not enough to offer that once-in-a-lifetime deal, it must be followed up with a product or service that delivers to convert these promotional customers into repeat business.
3) Make the customer do something that requires effort
This can be a password to get into the club free of charge. A coupon that is cut out of a newspaper. Sign-up for a free ebook. Knowledge of the ‘secret menu’. Make the customer feel like they have some insider knowledge, some exclusive level of access, get some extra for jumping through the hoops of signing up for the deal. This shows intent on the customers behalf and means the deal is interesting enough to go through that extra effort. It will hit those people who care about the deal you are offering. If someone is not interested, they pay full-price and would have probably been a customer anyway.
4) Maintain your integrity and protect your brand
Offering 90% discount may sound like an amazing offer but it can hurt your brand. Customers will lose trust. Why are you such an over-priced product or service that you can afford to offer such a massive discount? There are a few exceptions to this rule. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Single’s Day, flash sales with a very limited time frame where sales volume and inventory clearance are the goals.
In conclusion, price promotions done right are not always a bad thing. Make sure it fits your brand, fits your goals, fits the season and offers the customer something that appeals on an emotional level.
There days there are so many seasonal holidays and special sales days, that it makes planning essential. Singles Day in China, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day, NYE, January Sales, Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, Women’s Day, Easter Day, Full Moon Parties – Thailand, Summer Solstice, Mid-Autumn Festival, Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc., etc.
Planning without action is a waste of time. Use the PDCA cycle: Plan Do Check Act. Track your results and use them to improve your plan for next time.
Let us know seasonal promotions and pricing strategies that have worked for you in the comment below.