What to Know About Promotional Offers

Promotional offers work. We know that. Designed properly, promotions increase the rate of response and demand revenue. In my opinion, promotional offers should be designed to increase the response rate with the goal of generating more orders vs. increasing the average order size (more on this later). Which promotional offers work best to buyers and prospects? We have several years of history and data from the A/B split testing we have done on all types of offers and here is a ranking of the top preforming offers from our experience:

  1. Free (or Flat) Shipping – Always #1
  2. Fixed dollar amounts off the order.
  3. Fixed percentages off the order.
  4. 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 and follow:

  1. Use offers strategically. Have a purpose. Know why you are making the offer and what you expect to gain.
  2. Prepare pro-forma; do your financial analysis. Know what the anticipated lift will have on your bottom-line. Offers come at a cost.
  3. Always test a new offer against a control, i.e., no offer or another promo.
  4. 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!
  5. Alternate offers to keep them fresh and to spark interest.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Make sure your sample size is large enough to yield statistically valid results.
  9. Expect some decline in the impact of the offer over the control if the offer is repeated.
  10. 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 to12-month segments. What’s more, increasing the average order size artificially through the use of a promotion is not sustainable. The promo may increase the average order but once the promotional period is over, the average order size will go back seeking its true level. Increasing the average order size is achieved by altering your merchandising strategy. Consider testing no minimum. I know this sounds risky but test after test has supported making offers without minimums (or at least setting minimums much lower than your typical average order). 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. If you insist on a minimum, be sure you don’t set it so high that only a small percentage of buyers bite.

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.