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4 for 3, and other deals you may not need



In the run up to Black Friday and Christmas, there are always so many discounts and deals about, it's hard not to get caught up in it all, but here's a couple of things I have learnt in my 20 year career in retail, either as advice to retailers, or a warning to shoppers...


I am not a retail expert, I have never worked as a buyer or merchandiser, and only 2 of my 20 years working in retail were on the shop floor, but I have worked alongside marketing & retail teams, and within agencies designing retail campaigns, and tactical POS for many well-known brands and retailers, both on the high street and in grocers.


I have spent my career, essentially convincing shoppers to buy things they had not intended to. Disrupting their shopper journey with enticing visuals, to veer them off track, and instead buy whatever was 'new' 'less than' and 'limited edition'


For the majority of my career too, we (the design team) were subjected to the generalised notion that;


⚡️If a promotion or campaign was deemed a success (i.e. positive sales results) the retail team had nailed their product, price and promotion etc

⚡️If a promotion or campaign was deemed to have failed (i.e. sales underperformed) the creative campaign or POS had 'not worked hard enough'


It was just something we learnt to live with.


There are multiple reasons why a product on promotion doesn't go as expected - position in store, price, messaging, the weather...a pandemic...but ruling Mother Nature out of the equation and concentrating on the elements more within our control, I began to recognise there was one thing, for me, that came up time & time again with these campaigns that 'flopped'.*


They lost sight of their customer's needs, and focussed on their own.


They forgot WHY their customers were out shopping. WHAT they were looking for, HOW MANY they wanted, and WHO they were buying for...


Promotions aren't (or shouldn't be) plucked out of the air. They are worked out by people much smarter than me, by analysing shopper data, stock levels, financials (margins etc), sales performance, average basket spend etc. One way to use this date is to get customers to spend incrementally more than last time. So if customers are spending £10 on average, how can they get them to instead spend, say £12 per visit.


In the case of '4 for 3', you could hypothesise that their customers buy on average 2 products per visit, and so, an offer is created to entice shoppers to buy 3 (by giving a fourth item away free).Win-win, right?


Only if the shoppers wants/needs 4 of these items.


The issue comes when they don't need 3 or 4 items, and this offer is purely created to shift more stock.


Suddenly this offer has become business-centric rather then shopper centric.


The result?


It's actually REALLY hard for the customer to shop it! Have you ever spent ages labouring over an 'irresistible' offer, adding products to your basket and repeatedly swapping them out again, to make it work and 'save' money? Then this could very well be one of these examples.


⚡️NEWSLASH : If you spend more money than you set out to, you haven't saved money ⚡️


I quite often find myself caught up in one of these frustrating multi-buy offers when looking for kids basics, (leggings & tops etc). I find in these instances, 3 for 2, or even worse 4 for 3 are really common - where I just want a matching set, and I seem to be continually enticed into buying an extra top (?) or even worse 2 EXTRA items...


GREAT saving! 🙄 ha! plus an exhausting, time consuming experience! I hate waste too, so this really bothersme, as well as the fact that I (with all my experience of these kind of promos!) have got sucked in to buying stuff I didn't need.


It just makes no sense for the shopper. Especially as we are all becoming more conscious in our buying habits.


Here's another...have you ever bought a BOGOF pack of 12 greetings cards because you liked the 2 designs on the front? Not so much the ones on the back, but if you get the 2nd pack free, then it doesn't matter?


Accept it does matter because now you have 12 of the cards you don't really like, and which are likely to live at the bottom of your card drawer, year after year only being used as a last resort?! (or is that just me 😂?!) It is no accident that the ones in the back of the pack are not as special as the ones at the front...


On the flipside however, one of the best examples of a multi-buy I have seen was a few years ago at Victoria's Secret, whilst shopping with my then 13 year old daughter. My daughter & her friend desperately wanted to get some of the branded knickers, which happened to be on offer for 5 for £20. The store member near by picked up on their deliberating, trying to work out if a) they wanted to spend £20 on these knickers, or b) if they went halves, who would the 5th pair! So she appeared next to us, and told them they could have 6 for £24 instead, so that they could each have 3. How simple (and easy!) was that?


It showed such good customer service, knowing their customers who shop for these entry-level products, making them feel special with an offer 'just for them' (which I'm sure it actually wasn't!) but knowing WHO their customers are, and HOW they are spending money got them the sale.


So this isn't a 'don't run promotions' kind of post - probably the opposite! Running the right ones can gain you sales, and reward customer loyalty. But, if you start with your customers needs, WHAT they want, HOW many they buy, and WHO they are buying for, it will make ALL the difference!


And I guess to bear in mind the Apple effect. If you have ever had a discount on an Apple product, laptop or Mac, it was likely to be around 5%, and quite likely made you fist-pump the air in delight. These discounts are RARE, and SMALL, which makes them even more sought after.


If your brand or product is continually discounted, your customers will start to perceive the value of them at the discounted rate. Isn't Pizza Express expensive, full price..?!


PS. Don't get me started on BOGOF Valentines Day cards...😂


*I refer to failing campaigns in the financial sense, not brand building, or creativity.