The Beginner’s Guide to Ecommerce Promotions

  • May 8, 2016


    Promotions have been a stable sales strategy in retail since, well the beginning of time. Some say that it started with the Mesopotamian tribes bartering deals back in 6000 BC. While promotions have changed substantially since then, the goal remains the same: to drive an exchange of goods, or in our case, Sales.

    Your main goal with running an ecommerce business is to make sales and promotions will help you sell more. It takes a bit of work to put together an effective ecommerce promotion but we’ve got you covered. Here’s the beginner’s guide to ecommerce promotions!

    Why Use E-Commerce Promotions?


    Increase Sales

    Did I say that promotions can increase your ecommerce sales revenue? That’s right, I did. Well here’s a bit more support. Ecommerce promotions, when implemented correctly, capitalize on online consumer behavior which makes it easier for you to sell to shoppers despite the large amount of competition out there.

    A common misconception with sales promotions is that you have to offer crazy discounts or incentives to drive sales conversions. While bigger incentives may be more appealing, a small incentive can still make a positive impact on sales and you won’t have to diminish your margins drastically.

    Promotions Create a Better Sales Strategy

    We are all aware that November and December drive nearly ¼ of all ecommerce revenue but there are other opportunities out there that you can capitalize on. Think Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Mother’s Day. By running promotions around key dates and holidays, you can convert more sales and add value to keep shoppers coming back. It’s also important to consider that you will face less competition promotion wise on these key dates that aren’t during the big holiday season. Here’s a list of key dates for ecommerce promotions.

    Convert a Higher Percentage of Traffic


    Did you know that, on average, 98% of new visitors don’t convert into a lead or sale? Almost all of the traffic that you end up driving to your website results in nothing. Yes, some of these new visitors who don’t convert may come back at another time, but you have no way of knowing how much of this traffic will return.

    This puts heavy emphasis on converting the current website visitors. Promotions provide an effective way to engage and convert traffic. Serving up an offer that says “Welcome! Take 15% off of your first order. Enter your email to get the code” will allow you to drive sales but also capture email leads so you can retarget these visitors for free with email campaigns.

    Promotions are the Ideal Way to Engage People

    For just a moment, think of your ecommerce store as a brick and mortar store. You’d never let someone walk through the front door without engaging them in some manner. Whether it be welcoming them, notifying them of current promotions, or providing them with some information, you have to engage that shopper.

    The same goes for your ecommerce store and promotions. This is your opportunity to directly engage each shopper with something that could be of value to them. While there are some critics of pop up promotions, the fact of the matter is that if you provide something of value to your visitors (discount, free shipping, free gift wrapping) this will only enhance their shopping experience.

    Types of Promotions

    Percentage Based Discount

    The most common way to offer a discount is with a percentage based discount. Online retailers use small discounts (5-10% off), larger discounts (15-25% off) as incentives to purchase. It’s also common to see brands discount 50% or more to clear out old and excess inventory.

    Who should use this offer?

    Discounting can and should be used by all retailers, but in different ways. If your business has high profit margins then you can afford offer higher discounts of 15-25% off and discount more frequently. With low profit margins and higher end brand appeal, look to offer smaller discounts or less frequent sales promotions. If excess inventory is bogging you down then get rid of it with clearance discounts!

    Dollar Amount Discount

    Instead of offering a percentage discount, you can discount by a specific dollar amount. This provides you with a static discount amount giving you more control of your product margins. These offers can also be positioned as a credit (take a $ 15 credit!) which can result in better promotion redemption rates.

    Who should use this offer?

    If you’re looking to avoid the numbers game of percent discounts and have a static discount amount, then a dollar amount discount may be your best option.

    Free Shipping

    Free shipping is by far the biggest sales driver during throughout the year. 73% of online shoppers stated that free shipping is the #1 criterion for making a purchase. Free shipping is an offer that appeals to the majority of shoppers and can significantly increase sales conversions.

    Who should use this offer?

    Shipping cost is largely based on size and weight which means that every business will have fluctuations in shipping cost. If free shipping works with your margins and cost structure then look to use it in your 2016 ecommerce marketing strategy. If the cost is just too high, there are a couple of ways to make it work for your business. We will touch on these later on in the post.

    Gift with Purchase


    Offering a gift with purchase is a great way to add value to the shopping experience while also driving sales. A small item is a quality incentive and shoppers must fully checkout in order to receive their gift.

    Who should use this offer?

    Have some old promotional items or some items that just won’t sell? Use these items to close sales conversions. A gift with purchase can be that needed additional value to push shoppers to buy from you!

    Threshold Promotions

    A threshold offer is a promotion that is only accessible if the shopper has a cart size higher than a certain threshold. This can help increase order sizes and convert more sales. A study by Harris Interactive and UPS found that 39% of customers would purchase enough to get free shipping.

    For example, if my average order size is $ 50, then I’d want to offer free shipping on orders of $ 75 or more. This way, I’m able to encourage shoppers to increase their order size with the incentive of free shipping.

    Who should use this offer?

    It can be difficult for some businesses to offer sales promotions without it digging into profit margins. However, by using thresholds, most brands can offer a discount or free shipping promotion in a way that benefits their business. For businesses who want to run promotions but have low profit margins, threshold promotions are the way to go.



    While contests aren’t necessarily sales promotions, they are an incredibly effective way to drive engagement and email sign ups. Running a contest is simple! Offer your visitors a chance to win a big ticket item by entering their email address.

    This can be one of your products or something else, but it must be something that your ideal customer will be interested in. One thing to keep in mind is if you do decide to choose one of your products, this may prevent people from purchasing that visit because they’ll wait to see if they win. If this is the case, send a follow up email to all entries who did not win with a promo code to use on your site.

    Who should use this offer?

    Contests are perfect for businesses who want to convert more of the new traffic that they are driving. Since a high ticket item is attractive, many new visitors who are interested in your products will enter their email for a chance to win. This is a perfect way to boost lead conversion from Facebook ads and other PPC advertising.

    Best Practices for Ecommerce Promotions

    Create a Mutually Beneficial Promotion

    It’s important to offer sales promotions that not only benefit your business but also are appealing to the shoppers on your website. Take a look at your margins and see what kind of offers you are able to run. From there, figure out what is the most appealing promotion to shoppers and go with that one.

    Capitalize on Consumer Behavior

    Shoppers have some predictable patterns that every retailer should be aware of. Here are a few key ones to focus on:

    • Shoppers are looking for free shipping. 73% of shoppers state free shipping as the #1 factor in a purchasing decision.
    • 56% of consumers abandon carts when presented with unexpected costs. Instead, present your shoppers with unexpected discounts! Even if it’s small, it can influence their decision.
    • 40% of shoppers prefer receiving discounts over loyalty program points. We live in a world where instant gratification is expected. Meeting shopper’s needs immediately results in more sales.

    Choose a Frequency of Promotions

    This is going to differ for every ecommerce business but it is an important aspect to consider. you may plan on running a consistent promotion on your site or strictly limit promotions to key dates. Whatever you do decide on, you still must engage the traffic coming to your site. This could be an email capture pop up, a contest, or a navigational call to action (Click here to view our new line of sandals!).

    Make it Easy for Shoppers

    Eliminate barriers and distractions so the shopper can purely focus on checking out. If you’re offering promo codes as a part of your promotion, distribute the codes on your site. This eliminates shoppers from leaving your site to check their email or go to a third party site all while keeping them on the path to making a purchase.

    Take Control of Your Branding


    If you go to any top e-commerce website, you’ll see on site promotions that are truly unique to the brand. Shoppers are much more willing to engage with promotions with attractive imagery, crafty copy, and a strong call to action. Instead of using a generic looking promotion, take a few short minutes to design a branded promotion to grab the attention of shoppers!

    Mix it Up

    Keep things fresh for your shoppers by mixing up which types of promotions you use. This gives you an opportunity to test what works best with your customer base and provides reasons for you to reach out to leads and customers.

    Engage Shoppers at Key Moments


    There are a few key opportunities to engage shoppers in order to drive conversions. The most obvious are when a shopper arrives on your website and when a shopper decides to leave your website. If you implement promotions to target these two important moments, you’ll already be on the fast track to increasing sales conversions.

    Notify shoppers of deals or opportunities within 15 seconds of their arrival. Why this soon? Because 55% of visitors will leave your website within 15 seconds. To ensure that every shopper is engaged, present an email pop up or sales promotion early in the visit.

    Use an exit intent offer for one last chance at converting a visitor as they are about to leave your website. Messaging like “Before you go, sign up for our mailing list for exclusive deals” will drive email sign ups.

    If a shopper attempts to leave the cart or checkout pages, they are so close to completing their purchase. Give them a bit of a nudge with an exit offer containing an ungated promo code. This cart abandonment prevention strategy has helped brands reduce abandoned carts by as much as 30%!

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