What You Should Know about Promotional Offers

by Stephen Lett

Promotional strategy differs from the house file vs. prospects vs. the web. It also varies from 1x only to 2 and more time buyers. For example, offers to prospects (non-buyers) need to be more aggressive in order for them to bite. The same is true for the web where internet only buyers are looking for deals and they may not be as loyal to your brand. Stronger or more aggressive promotional offers can also be used to convert 1x buyers to 2 and more time customers. (Remember our definition of a “buyer” vs. a “customer.”)   What are the promotional offers that work best to buyers and prospects? At Lett Direct, we have done a great deal of A/B split testing of offers over the years. We have lots of history and data on all types of offers. Here is a ranking of the top preforming offers: Free (or Flat) Shipping – Always #1 Fixed dollar amounts off the order. Fixed percentages off the order. Free gift. There are important guidelines to follow when creating, executing and measuring promotional offers to your customers and prospects. Here are the guidelines we have established over the year that I highly recommend you follow: Use offers strategically. Have a purpose. Know why you are making the offer and what you expect to gain. Prepare a pro-forma; do your financial analysis. Know what the anticipated lift will have on your bottom-line. Offers come at a cost. Always test a new offer against a control, i.e., no offer or another promo. Don’t over test offers within a drop. Testing too many offers and setting up too many splits can make results difficult to read. Keep it simple! Alternate offers to keep them fresh and to spark interest. Know what your competition is doing. You might have to use offers just to stay competitive. Be aware and don’t put your head in the sand. Consider making the offer available on one (or more), of the coupon sites. This is especially recommended if your competition is doing so. You do not want to lose the order to your competition if a customer finds their coupon. Make sure your sample size will yield statistically valid results. Expect some decline in the impact of the offer over the control if the offer is repeated. Read the results and act on what you see! The goal of most offers should be to increase the response rate. We can design marketing promotions to raise the average order. But these types of offers are generally at the expense of the response rate. While the average dollar will be higher, most likely we will end up generating fewer orders. An offer designed to increase the response rate would be more productive because they add more new buyers to your house file or bring “older” buyers forward into your 0-12 month segments. What’s more, increasing the average order size artificially through the use of a promotion is not sustainable. The use of a promotion offer might increase the average order but once the promotion expires, the average order size will return to its normal range. Increasing the average order size is achieved by altering your merchandising strategy. I think it makes a great deal of sense to consider testing no minimum. I know this is a scary thought to you but test after test has supported making offers without minimums (or at least setting minimums much lower than your typical average order). Based on the testing I’ve done, you should see a significant increase in the RPC (Revenue per Catalog); of course, your actual results will most likely vary. Both the response rate and average order size will most likely be higher with no dollar order minimum. Most of the benefit comes from an increase in the response rate since more people are able to qualify for the offer. This is a good thing because it means more people are ordering and being added to your 12-month buyer file. Coupon websites such as Retailmenot.com, Groupon.com, Couponcabin.com and other sites have helped condition consumers to look on the internet for money-saving coupons before they shop. We all do it. I think promo conditioning in general is on a greater scale than ever. But be aware, once you post a coupon on a coupon site, it can spread across the web like wildfire. You will not have as much control as if you keep the offer on your own site. You may deal with angry customers who want the value of the coupon long after it has expired, since it is still posted on the coupon sites and can’t be removed. Therefore, the management of promotions and the strategy behind them is very important. Free Shipping! $10 Off! Take 20%! Promotions such as these are very common today. Consumers have been conditioned to expect an offer and catalogers are afraid not to give them one. We do know that promotions increase the rate of response. We also know that gross margins can suffer as a result. But what should you do? Not give an offer when your competition does? The pressure to give an offer to both customers and prospects is overwhelming especially on the web. In summary, use promotional offers strategically. Have a purpose and an objective. Do your financial homework by preparing a profit & loss statement to feel assured the expected gain will be greater than the cost of giving the offer. The careful use of promotional offers can increase the response rate and add more new buyers to your house file. ________________________________________________________________________ Stephen R. Lett is the President of Lett Direct, Inc., and a catalog consulting firm specializing in circulation planning, forecasting and analysis since 1995. Mr. Lett spent the first 25 years of his career with leading catalog companies; both business-to-business and consumer. He is the author of a book, Strategic Catalog Marketing. He can be reached at 302-539-7257 or by e-mail at steve@lettdirect.com.