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5 Promotional Mistakes To Avoid This Holiday Season

Dan Hutmacher • August 13, 2014

Black Friday and Cyber Monday – two promotional-heavy days that both retailers and serious bargain shoppers have come to love. But besides these days, consumers of all types now expect promotions and discounts throughout the holiday shopping season. To keep your customers happy and returning to your store, here are five eCommerce promotional mistakes that are within your power to avoid:

 holiday promotion

Mistake 1: Getting the Timing Wrong

Issue: There are a lot of ways that promotional timing can be off. These range from failing to build awareness and anticipation to forgetting to compare the length of the holiday season vs. last year and under planning based on that.

Ask Yourself: When should I run promotions? How long should my promotions last? How do I measure the success of my promotions?

Solution: Plan your calendar ahead of time and test promotions throughout the year to pinpoint effectiveness and duration. Your calendar can be edited throughout the year, but it should remain the framework from which you create your promotions. When it comes to measuring effectiveness, ensure you compare holiday performance year over year (i.e. dates vs. days of the week, etc.). Finally, be sure to count the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Fewer days requires the need for greater sales per day to match period comps.

holiday timing

Mistake 2: Using a Shotgun Approach

Issue: This usually entails either constantly sending generic email blasts or copying and pasting the same ads and content across all of your customer touch points.

Ask Yourself: How can I get customers to my site? How can I get them to make a purchase? How can I get them to buy more?

Solution: Tailor your messages by customer segment, medium, and platform. Integrated marketing doesn’t mean lots of copying and pasting, it means having a consistent message coming from a consistent personality across all touch points. In the world of social media, messages on social sites should be relevant to a specific site and its users (i.e. terse tweets vs. image-based pins), but all should be coming from the same personality. Emails should also have different messages based on different customer segments and different customer goals. Customers segmentation can get extremely complicated, but even a basic recency, frequency, monetary model will help you identify your best customers, budget buyers, frequent purchasers, etc. Promotions are most effective when tailored to meet customer habits. On a related note, email needs to be mobile friendly this holiday season since ~70% of emails are now opened on mobile devices.

digital messaging

Mistake 3: Relying on Untested Promotions

Issue: Using this critical time of year to try new promotions without having a gauge of typical response. This entails not planning for stock, shipping, and network capacity for traffic spikes.

Ask Yourself: What can I do to attract more business? How can I drive more sales? What are the right kinds of promotions for my business?

Solution: Experiment on different promotions throughout the year and plan for contingencies. Measure effectiveness by analyzing comps (key performance indicators year over year) and performance to comp trends (key performance indicators year-over-year compared to the year-over-year trend going into the promotion). Have backup suppliers and shippers, and ensure your site can handle traffic spikes for short-term promotions. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but be careful doing so this time of year. You may need to be nimble, so make sure your arsenal is proven.


Mistake 4: Giving Up Too Much Margin

Issue: Solely relying on discounting for promotions.

Ask Yourself: How can I entice customers to buy while I still remain profitable?

Solution: Get strategic. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot in terms of profitability unless you need to. You can promote some items at a low-to-negative margin as long as the basket is profitable overall, but also consider free or discounted shipping, gifts with purchase, bundling, and threshold promotions such as spend $100 and get 10% off. In addition to orders and revenue, analyze average unit retail, average order value, and average items per order to figure out how you can meet revenue goals while still optimizing margin.


Mistake 5: Putting All of Your Efforts into Acquisition

Issue: Spending all of your money on acquisition instead of retention.

Ask Yourself: How do I get more visitors to my site? How do I get more people to buy from me?

Solution: Never forget to invest in your current customers. When it comes to holiday sales, increased traffic doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t convert, so don’t neglect the customers you already have. Returning customers are generally more likely to convert, and gratitude goes a long way in terms of repeat business and brand reputation. Offer promotions to current customers thanking them for their business. Surprise and delight them with extras such as free gift wrapping, free shipping, or discounts on accessories and related items after recent purchases. Positive word of mouth remains the most effective marketing, so be sure to treat your current customers well.


Dan Hutmacher is a Senior Digital Consultant on the LYONSCG Digital Strategy team. As the merchandising and promotions specialist, Dan’s focus is on tactical, data-driven efforts within a holistic marketing strategy. He has been with LYONSCG since early 2014 and has over eight years of experience in merchandising, pricing, promotions, and competitive intelligence. Dan is obsessed with learning and will happily talk your ear off about anything from integrated marketing to existentialism to the benefits of the paleo diet.


Dan Hutmacher

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Dan Hutmacher

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