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Last year shoppers spent a record breaking $4.45 billion on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. This was a jump from previous year’s numbers with a 14% increase on Black Friday and a even higher 25% jump in online spending on Thanksgiving Day.

At the same time retailers are competing intensely. In fact, Amazon even started their sale earlier this year and promised deal as often as every 5 minutes all the way through Dec 22nd. That’s just too intense.

When every retailer is offering a sale, how can you stand out?

If there is one thing that doesn’t change in the sea of change surrounding us, it is human behaviour. We are going to look at four things that will help you to step out but all of them start with the same viewpoint.

Switch your view point and think from the point of view of the customer when you are designing a sale.

Most e-commerce sites focus on themselves when they think of a sale. But instead what if the questions become:

  • Who are the customers that I want to attract?
  • What will they feel about my brand when they see the sale?
  • Will I be able to create long-term value and get some of these people back to my site?
  • How do I act different?

THEN think about how you are going to hold the conversation with the customer that is going to result in a sale. And always be listening for what they want.

That’s how carefully you need to listen.

And that will help you get to the heart of marketing a sale successfully.

Marketing is about convincing a person to change their way of life and their actions. You are asking them to choose you, over others or over doing nothing at all.

Being honest and real and upbeat AND emphatic to your customer is HARD. But it is doable and the companies that do it are the ones that convince customers to choose them.

Offer real value rather than just a deal

You might have been waiting for the holiday season to clear off all your dead stock. And Black Friday sale might be your one hope to clear that dead stock. But be careful about letting that feeling permeate into your blood. It is hard and it is nerve-wracking but understand that customers can sense your feelings from a mile away. Yes they can even do it thought an online website — pop-up frequency is a great hint for one!

If you keep pushing that same discounted $4.99 rabbit ear lemon-peeler it’s going to turn customers off.

Listen to this Dan Sliver talk where he talks about always acting like a successful business.

When people buy from a brand or business they do so because they like it and they hope for a pleasant experience. Desperation doesn’t make for a pleasant experience.

A little bit of a confession

I experienced this with my own business. My clothing store Tuni was something I started out almost immediately out of university. I worked for a year in a bank, saved up, started work on the brand, quit work after 3 months and then launched another 3 months later. I’d piled up a lot of debts (not monetary). I’d pulled all the favors I could, from family, friends, contacts, maybe even some inanimate objects. My savings were thinning but I tried not to observe too closely. I had an experienced garment manufacturer employed (!), my parents on roster duty and my partner working to the bone on photoshoots.

So when I launched it didn’t look like this:

It looked like this:

And you know what? That permeated through everything.

It predicted my patience, my willingness to stick with campaigns, my correspondence with customers — everything.

And it doesn’t do any good. It turns people of if they feel that you are desperate to push things on them that they don’t want. So don’t do it.

The best sales I had? The month I decided I was going to close shop and focus on my insane job (I’d picked up another one by then). I invited people and their friends over, made some sangria and chips and hung everything up on rack. Then I just sat back and helped them with styling tips if they wanted and partook in some sangria. Good time, great money.

So follow what Dan Sliver says — even if you are not doing well this month make sure your customers feel you’re doing amazing every month.

Sell what sells instead of what you want to clear. And make them feel that warm glow of happiness when they buy from you.

Offer the nice type of scarcity

It is fashionable to create artificial scarcity these days by controlling supply and to be fair, there is nothing inherently wrong with that. It has worked out exceptionally well for the Hermès Birkin. But they also ensure only one craftsman works on the bag and take nearly 2 days to build each on.

This same scarcity — think ‘Only 9 hours 14 minutes left!’ — doesn’t work quite so well if you are selling buddha bracelets or iPhone cases. Because they aren’t unique or actually scarce.

Having something that nobody else has does bring a joy to us. But rather than creating scarcity like high fashion brands, there is another way to go — novelty. A first edition or a limited edition or a one-time collaboration — all these are novel ways of creating something special. There are many ways to create things that are unique and do not scale. And in this scalable, fast and predictable world there is a beauty in unpredictability.

Know the customer you want to attract

Everyone’s got it rough out there.

The fact that deep discount can often be harmful to a business has been well known for quite a while. It was most stark during the age of intense Groupon-ing and books have been written about how the steep discounts and bulk purchasing lead to coupon hunters who didn’t make good long term customers.

A business will often see different types of customers. Some customers just need the final push to buy your product and others would only buy at impossibly cheap ‘deals’ but will still have high expectations.

Your aim can be to clear stock and in that case go right ahead and offer those amazing deal to get your stock out of the door. However, if what you want to do is introduce customers to your business and ensure that they come back to you again and again then think deeper.

Use the sale as a taster that allows customers to sample and then brings them back for more.

Think of what you want to achieve with the sale and what niche you want to occupy in the customers head. Is it cheap goods that they are buying one time or is it a real deal that they’d like to see again?

One idea might be to offer customers a custom sale trial-pack or stocking stuffers so that they can test your product. If you would like some guidance on how to go about planning for your sale then check out this excellent article (by the state government of Victoria, Australia!)

Step away from the crowd


We compiled the price trends over the year for different categories and some of the show quite surprising variations. This was compiled from a consumer viewpoint but I think it’s valuable for businesses as well. It’s an age old trick to go against the trend to stand out.

What if you don’t offer a sale when everyone else is offering one?

REI has gone for a radical approach. Theyve decided that they are going to stay closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday — just like they did last year. To them the value of asking customer to enjoy meaningful time at with family and exploring outdoors is bigger than the bucks they can make. It’s what they are all about and they’re putting their money where their mouth is. And clearly, placing your values with your brand isn’t hurting — they are growing 6% year on year.

Or do the opposite and start your sale earlier like Amazon did this year. The key is to think about your real goals and align them your sale.

Have a Happy and Successful Thanksgiving!

Download our app or book a demo with me (Anjali).

Semantics3 Analytics is an e-commerce specific analytics tool developed by Semantics3, the company that operates the world’s largest eCommerce product database.

Built in Bangalore, Singapore and San Francisco by Anjali and the Semantics3 team