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Why Retail Promotions Fail: You Forgot to Set the Right Goals for Retail Discounts

By Fabrizio Fantini • 6 Jun 2024

In the bustling world of retail, promotions are often the heartbeat of market strategy, vital for drawing in customers, boosting sales and elevating brand presence. Yet, despite best-laid plans, many of these promotions miss the mark. And it’s often because they’re aimed at the wrong targets.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve peeled back the layers of discounting in a promo-saturated market, highlighted the importance of aligning pricing and discounting strategies, unraveled the complexities of markdowns versus promotions, and delved into the role of allocation and replenishment strategies in promotion success. Now, in this latest chapter, we turn our attention to a critical yet often overlooked aspect of retail promotions: setting, and targeting, the right goals.


Understanding the Purpose

Retail promotions are not one-size-fits-all solutions; rather, they are versatile tools that can be wielded to achieve a variety of objectives. At their core, promotions serve to entice customers, stimulate demand and drive sales. However, beneath this broad umbrella lies a multitude of specific goals, each requiring its own tailored approach.

Take, for instance, the goal of bolstering customer loyalty. By offering discounts, rewards or exclusive perks to repeat customers, retailers aim to create a sense of allegiance and incentivize continued patronage. Loyalty programs have become a popular means of cultivating long-term relationships with customers, encouraging them to return to the store again and again.

Another common goal of retail promotions is to clear slow-selling or excess inventory. Retailers often find themselves with surplus stock that needs to be moved quickly to make room for new merchandise. In such cases, promotions can be a powerful tool for incentivizing purchases and reducing inventory levels. However, it’s essential to strike a balance between discounting to clear stock and maintaining brand integrity, as excessive markdowns can erode perceived value and diminish profitability in the long run.

Set the right goals

The Consequences of Misaligned Goals

Imagine a scenario where a retailer aims to boost customer loyalty by offering deep discounts on high-margin products. While well-intentioned, this approach might backfire if the discounts erode profitability or attract bargain hunters who are unlikely to return at full price. In this case, the promotion fails to achieve its primary goal of enhancing loyalty because the strategy is geared towards short-term revenue gains.

Similarly, another common misstep occurs when retailers use promotions to clear slow-selling stock without considering the impact on brand perception or long-term customer value. By prioritizing inventory clearance over maintaining brand integrity or nurturing customer relationships, retailers risk alienating loyal patrons and diminishing the perceived value of their offerings.


Setting the Right Goals

To avoid the pitfalls of misaligned goals, retailers must first identify the primary objective of each promotion. Is it to drive immediate sales, foster loyalty, increase brand awareness or achieve another strategic aim? Once the goal is clear, retailers can tailor their promotional strategies accordingly, ensuring that every tactic aligns with the desired outcome.

For instance, if the goal is to enhance customer loyalty, retailers may opt for loyalty programs, personalized offers or experiential promotions that resonate with their target audience and encourage repeat purchases. On the other hand, if the aim is to clear excess inventory, retailers can employ targeted clearance sales, bundle deals or creative merchandising techniques to achieve this objective while minimizing the impact on brand perception.


Addressing Retail Promotion Hurdles

Let’s examine three typical retail promotion challenges faced by retailers and explore how setting the right goals can mitigate these issues:

  1. Discount Dilution: When retail promotions lead to excessive discounting, sellers risk diluting brand value and eroding profit margins. By setting clear goals focused on balancing short-term sales with long-term brand equity, retailers can implement pricing strategies that maximize profitability while maintaining customer trust and loyalty.Clothing retailer J.Crew faced challenges with frequent discounting, which eroded brand value and profit margins. The constant sales made customers reluctant to buy at full price. To address this, J.Crew reduced the frequency of promotions and emphasized product quality, helping to restore brand value and stabilize margins.
  2. Customer Acquisition vs. Retention: While acquiring new customers is essential for growth, retaining existing ones is equally crucial for sustained success. By aligning promotion goals with the customer lifecycle and segmenting promotions based on customer behavior and preferences, retailers can optimize their marketing spend and maximize the lifetime value of each customer.Starbucks balanced customer acquisition and retention through its Starbucks Rewards program. They initially attracted new customers with promotions like “Happy Hour,” then fostered loyalty with personalized rewards and exclusive offers. This strategy increased the lifetime value of customers and encouraged repeat purchases.
  3. Channel Conflict: In an omnichannel retail landscape, promotions across different channels can inadvertently cannibalize sales or create confusion among customers. By setting cohesive goals that prioritize consistency and coherence across channels, retailers can ensure a seamless shopping experience and avoid alienating customers or undermining brand credibility.Krave Jerky encountered channel conflict when promoting products through direct-to-consumer (DTC) channels, creating tension with retail partners. To mitigate this, they differentiated product mix available on each channel, eliminating the cannibalization effect of promotions on their own website.

The success of retail promotions hinges on setting the right goals that align with the desired outcomes and strategic priorities of the business. By understanding the purpose of each promotion and tailoring strategies accordingly, retailers can avoid common pitfalls and maximize the impact of their promotional efforts. Whether it’s driving sales, fostering loyalty or enhancing brand visibility, clarity of purpose is the key to unlocking the full potential of retail discounts.

Follow our blog series on why retail promotions fail:

If you would like to learn more about how you can use the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools to manage your retail promotions, talk to us about how PromoAI makes it easy to do just that.


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