Nov 102008

The Promotional Dilemma

As in years past, recommends discounting and free shipping for Thanksgiving:

Give customers a good reason to shop online while brick and mortar stores are closed on Thanksgiving day.
-- Ed Henrich, blog, 11/7/08

Ed's advice is not P&L-based. There's no whiff of a "discounting will lower your percentage margin but can generate enough incremental revenue to generate incremental profit" argument behind the recommendation. No, the advice is based on competitive pressure.

Without an offer on Cyber Monday, your email will get lost. Last year 32% of retailers offered free shipping on all orders for Cyber Monday – in addition to other promotions.
-- Ed Henrich, blog, 11/7/08

Competitive pressure which looks to be especially widespread this year.

Like the prisoner's dilemma in paid search bidding, retailers also face a prisoner's dilemma in promotional pricing. If retailer A cuts prices and retailer B doesn't, A has a shot at stealing share, increasing sales, and hopefully profit. But retailer B is thinking the same way. And when both A and B cut prices, neither gains share but both lose margin. So both sides lose.

The right strategy isn't obvious. The score is the bottom line, not top line. And complicating matters are fixed costs which must be covered.

David Bolotsky offered a well-argued stand against promotions back in August (see One Retailer’s View on Why Not to Offer Free Shipping). Yes, Dave sells uncommon goods, items not easily found elsewhere. But that detail doesn't dismiss his argument.

Promotions are like drugs -- they create dependencies -- customers will certainly respond, but will also defer purchases in order to take advantage of the special offer -- i.e. wait for the sale. Consequently, once you offer it, it is difficult to take away.
-- David Bolotsky, blog, 8/22/08

Promotions are where many retailers are heading. It is going to be an extremely rough-and-tumble Q4 in retail this season.



5 Responses to "The Promotional Dilemma"
Jeremy says:
Bryan Eisenberg has a short article with good comments here: It's probably best to offer free shipping with a mimimum order value. That way you can keep an eye on the bottom line while reaping the marketing benefits of free shipping. One point raised by a few people is that free shipping simplifies the purchase process. Making someone calculate the total price (item + shipping) creates another roadblock to conversion.
Rick Isenberg says:
Jeremy is right on, and you need to set the minimum value so you boost AOV to help counteract the free shipping impact. I think Rough and Tumble is a nice description for the bloody disaster we're going to see shortly. Ugh.


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