What’s the matter with discounts? Let me count the ways.
For starters, they diminish the perceived value of your product, and subsequently your brand. “Is this product actually worth the amount it’s priced at?” isn’t an idea you want to place in shoppers’ minds. Buyers might second guess themselves and start to lose confidence if you slash your prices too often—and nobody wants that.
Beyond that, discounts can train your new customers to wait and purchase only when you offer a discount. The last thing you want is a pack of Pavlovian shoppers on your hands, waiting around until each new holiday sale gets them drooling.
So what options do you have left? You know discounts can be effective tools to encourage new customers to make a purchase.
The thinking behind discounting in ecommerce goes something like this: Once you lure in a new customer, they’ll fall in love with your product, get hooked, and come back for multiple repeat purchases. It sounds good in theory, but the reality can be quite different.
Because we work with a lot of ecommerce stores that face these exact issues every time they send out a new email campaign, we understand the struggle. But we’ve also seen what works and what doesn’t when it comes to discounting.
Buckle up, because we’re about to uncover six ways you can still thrill your new and loyal customers alike, all without having to rely on the help of a promo code.
1. Emphasize urgency
The best email and ad copy uses urgency to get your shoppers to buy as soon as they click your CTA. But you don’t need to combine that sense of timeliness with a discount to get a high click-through rate—let your words do the heavy lifting!
What might urgency-charged copy look like in action? Enter Exhibit A, the old standby that is the cart abandonment email. These emails are inherently urgent since their entire purpose is to convince buyers to finish the checkout process.
But how about also using a low inventory notice that alerts customers to check out before their items have vanished from their shopping cart, possibly forever? One clever CTA variation you can substitute for the all-too-common “Check Out Now” is “Check Availability” (similar to what Brooks Running does in the example below). That way, you’re relying on a lower pressure ask that gets reluctant customers to buy into the idea that they’re getting a special deal while your product is still in-stock.
2. Offer personalized recommendations
“Personalized recommendations?” you might be thinking. “Isn’t that basically ecommerce marketing strategy 101?” Well, yes and no. But we promise this concept is far less basic than what your average definition of “personalization” entails.
When you look at your customer’s data across channels, you can understand what they’ve purchased or browsed in the past, then recommend specific products that are tailored just to them. Armed with the knowledge of what price point your customers initially bought in, you can recommend new products in a similar (or higher) price point for cross-selling and upselling them.
Similarly, if customers have purchased in the same category a few times, nudge them out of their comfort zone by introducing them to a new product category. Complacent repeat customers are better than no customers, but why let them coast when you have so much more to offer throughout your ecommerce site?
One last idea: Use social proof and product reviews from other customers to tout how great you are (see the email example from Tictail below for inspiration). Using dynamic content with copy like, “Customers who purchased this also liked this” could help your buyers branch out even more into other product categories. Highlighting your bestselling items throughout your marketing strategy can go a long way, just as products with higher customer ratings are more likely to be scooped up.
3. Reward your most loyal customers
Loyalty programs are set up specifically to incentivize and thank your best customers who have stuck with you through thick and thin. Who wouldn’t be tempted to make a second and third purchase if the loyalty rewards were impossible to resist?
We know that in the past we’ve said discounts are basically evil, but hear us out for a second. When it comes to your most loyal customers, rewards and incentives can be one of your most useful secret weapons.
Think about it: These are the buyers who’ve already shown they’ll purchase from your online store without a discount. You’ve effectively trained them not to wait for a discount before buying. So while there’s no longer a huge need to incentivize them, specific and targeted discounts can still be a simple way to thank them for attaining this level of customer loyalty or to encourage continued CLTV growth.
The Nordy Club, Nordstrom’s loyalty program, is one of the most rewards-driven examples we’ve seen among ecommerce brands. With multiple ways to earn points, as well as access to exclusive events and other shopping perks, there’s a lot to love. But crucially, you won’t see a lot of talk about discounts on the Nordy Club page.
Not surprisingly, many of the ecommerce stores we work with here at Zaius are incredibly discount conscious. Even their cart abandonment emails buck the trend by not including promo codes. Instead, they only offer discounts to their customers on the third purchase or later. That way, their customer base doesn’t become discount-dependent while they’re still getting to know the brand.
4. Give exclusive access to events and new products
Keep those discount codes far, far away because you have something way better in store for your ecommerce marketing plan—giving your customers the red carpet treatment! We’re talking about access to exclusive events, previews of your newest products, and whatever other special happenings you have up your sleeve to woo and wow them. As long as your incentive ties back to your ecommerce business or product in some way, you can’t go wrong by making your customers feel like they’re VIPs.
Shake Shack provides a textbook example of how you can pull them off. In an email celebrating the launch of their 200th restaurant, along with a contest to win burgers for a year (more on that tactic below), Shake Shack included an event invite to build hype around the announcement.
Notice how tactics like urgency and exclusivity are hinted at in the event description? Shake Shack wants customers to know that if they’re not one of the first 200 people in line, they’re going to miss out.
Still, you might not always have the luxury of holding in-person events for your customers; not everyone can have brick-and-mortar presences in New York City. When Nike releases a limited edition shoe, for example, they make sure their most valued customers are always in the know via their special SNKRS app and website. Similarly, dedicating a section of your ecommerce website to future releases can get your loyal customers amped about up-and-coming products.
5. Run a contest
You get a gift, you get a gift, and you get a gift! Running contests or giveaways can do more than just drum up buzz about your online store. The best ones offer a high-value prize instead of a discount (think “Win our new line of makeup products” versus “Get $25 off your next order”).
When done right, contests can increase your social media following and your email list. And in the long run, a boost in those direct-to-customer communication platforms is more valuable than a discount-prompted spike in traffic ever could be. Just make sure the giveaway is related to the products you sell. Otherwise, you may be collecting pointless subscribers who aren’t really interested in your ecommerce store.
Need some marketing ideas for your own contest? We’re fans of this approach from JetBlue, which features a clever idea coupled with a reward that’s tied to the service itself. Not only that, but the prize can be personally customized for each entrant, so we’re basically packing our bags already.
6. Partner with another brand
You know the saying about how there’s power in numbers? That doesn’t just hold true for the Oceans Eight team. When you team up with like-minded brands who share the same goals as you, good things are bound to happen.
Joining forces for a one-time event, contest, or even a co-branded product can have ongoing benefits for both businesses. You can build your social media following, grow your email marketing list, or come up with other incentives that make the partnership mutually beneficial based on your target audiences.
Again, there’s no need to offer a discount when the whole point of a partnership is getting in front of another brand’s audience to increase your own brand recognition. While deciding on which brand to partner with has the makings of its own separate blog post, don’t be afraid to reach out to companies in industries outside of your own as long as they have similar customer demographics.
As their name implies, Food52 isn’t exactly known for being anything other than a food-centric brand. But that doesn’t mean they have to stay in their industry’s lane. For this contest, they came together with a group of other brands to put their own unique spin on a vacation prize pack. It’s a smart, low-risk move that increases their name recognition and following with potential customers from other lifestyle brands.
Got your fill of discount-free inspiration for your ecommerce marketing? Good! Now go out there and show your customers why they can confidently buy your products without having to lean on promo codes as a crutch.