30+ Sales Promotion Examples: Definitions, Types, and Ideas
The power of sales promotions lies in incentives. In this guide, you will learn the definition of sales promotions and fundamental benefits and cons of using promotions. You will also get over 30 examples of the ways of promoting sales.
Sales promotions – definition and types
When getting started with promotion marketing, it's probably a good idea (at least for SEO), to know the definition of a sales promotion first.
A sales promotion is any type of marketing activity that involves an incentive which aims to generate interest or demand for a given product. Typically, the frontline goal of any sales promotion is boosting sales, but they can serve plenty other marketing objectives, such as reducing customer churn, lowering customer acquisition costs, or nurturing brand loyalty. So pretty much – the full package.
Before I lay out different types of trade promotions, let's take a quick look at the chief pros and cons of using sales promotions in your business.
Benefits of sales promotions
Sales promotions can benefit any business as long as they are planned with your budget and goals in mind. Here are some key benefits of retail promotions that you can expect from a well-planned promo campaign:
- Incentivize any behavior – sales promotions use incentives to motivate potential customers to perform a specific action, starting from making a purchase to following you on Instagram.
- Stay competitive – with the threat of recession, customers are looking for cheaper alternatives. Use sales promotions to make a better offer and win them back from competitors breathing down your neck.
- Better ROI tracking – by having a proper system for running and managing promotions, your marketing team should get plenty of data to learn what makes your customers tick.
- Inventory management – plenty of businesses use product-based sales promotions to introduce a new product or sell out overstock.
Downsides of sales promotions
Unfortunately, it's not all unicorns and rainbows. Sales promotions, just like any other marketing strategy, carry some hidden risk that you should be aware of:
- Brand devaluation – excessive discounts and spray-and-pray approach to promotions can quickly lead customers to perceive your brand as cheap. To prevent this, try figuring out the minimum discount that incentivizes a given behavior, discount only selected products and collections, and most importantly, target your offers at specific groups.
- More one-time buyers – if you are running sales promotions non-stop, customers will be less likely to purchase products that are not discounted. With a strictly price-driven audience, it is much harder to build long-lasting loyalty (if not impossible).
- Negative ROI – if you are not careful, you may quickly burn your budget or fall pray to fraud. Luckily, with the right technology and strategy, you should be able to mitigate those risks.
30+ types and examples of sales promotions
1. Coupons and discounts
The first sales promotion example are, unsurprisingly, coupons. The ubiquity of coupons stems from their versatility and the possibility of unparalleled customization. With a well-planned coupon campaign, you can:
- Attract new customers and extend your reach to new markets.
- Strengthen customer relationships and build a loyal audience.
- Track customer behavior and better monitor promotion ROI.
Equipped with QR codes and supported by modern software, personalized coupons are more accessible than ever. For brands, it’s a chance to extend their reach. For consumers, they bring convenience and omnichannel experience regardless of time and place.
2. Gift cards
Gift cards are another terrific idea for a sale promotion. Gift cards attract potential customers you wouldn't have acquired otherwise and bring profits even when unused. What's more, over 50% of gift cards owners spend more than the loaded balance. But what you should keep in mind when running gift card promotions?
- Unique gift cards enable retailers to track customers and prompt more relevant offers .
- Card balance should be easy to utilize at any time providing a seamless journey through your sales funnel .
- QR codes make gifts cards go along with mobile technologies .
- Digitization eliminates the chances of losing the card and minimizes the production costs.
Gift cards carry a predefined balance to be spent by a customer. They are always equipped with unique codes. Besides a predefined value and obligatory one-off code, gift cards have the same attributes as coupons and can also be customized on many levels.
3. Auto-applied discounts (cart-level promotions)
Auto-applied discounts rank third on my list of top sales promotions. Cart-level discounts tempt customers with potential savings at their fingertips. These sales promotions drive customers into spontaneous buying decisions. While many of them add more to their cart to get the discount, the average order volume is growing. Cart-level discounts are also perfect for flash sales and A/B testing.
Sales promotions with auto-applied discounts are typical for online stores. Retailers define a cart structure which qualifies for a discount. Each cart is validated by a system, and if promotion rules are met, a discount is added without any code. Such promotions enable you to deploy many diversified scenarios at the same time.
4. Free products
My next inspiration is offering free products or services. Besides adding free items to a cart, you can send a message with a code via email, SMS or another channel to notify the customer about the free gift they can get with the attached code. If you sell a digital product, you can think about introducing a free trial or plan to get customers hooked before they fully commit.
More sales promotion ideas & examples
5. Flash sales
Flash sales are dynamic promotions wrapped in a short time window. Expiration dates in such campaigns drive traffic and cut hesitations. Research claims that people find sales promotions much more attractive if limited in time. Make sure to clearly display the timer and include all necessary information in your promotion T&Cs to avoid customer complaints.
6. Happy hours campaigns
Happy hours promotion is a time-limited discount usually applied in the restaurant industry, often on drinks and beverages. You can launch, for example, a happy hours promotion at your bar offering 40% off all beverages and drinks from 5 PM to 6 PM Monday to Friday with a discount code “HAPPYHOURS.” They are very similar to flash sales, however, happy hours promotions tend to be held regularly, whereas flash sales work best when launched unexpectedly.
7. BOGO and bundling promotions
Buy one and get one free (BOGO promotion) is a popular type of sales promotion which can help you promote a new product or clear your stores at the end of the season. Moreover, if you combine such campaigns with time limits, you can increase traffic in the quietest time of your week or season. This kind of offer is based on the power of the word "free" which usually sounds very convincing in a consumer’s ears.
BOGO promotions are also an excellent way to boost your cross-selling and up-selling incentives or to move products that do not sell well on their own.
8. Product-based sales promotions
This kind of campaign enables you to cross-sell and up-sell your inventory. They also help when some products get stuck in your inventory or when you introduce new products. Here are a couple of examples of product-specific promotional campaigns:
- When a customer purchases an item for the first time, send a 10% off coupon for the next product if she leaves a review.
- Offer a $15 off coupon if a customer buys at least three products.
- If a customer buys one product from a category, send an email with a coupon for another one 20% off.
- Offer a $5 gift card if a customer purchased at least two items this month (spent a minimum of $50).
You can personalize your promo campaign by offering a discount based on previously purchased products. For example, if a customer purchased any item from the "Baby" category, you can send them a personalized discount coupon for 10% off the "Baby" category on their next purchase.
9. Event-based promotions
You can distribute your discounts based on events (for example, customer interactions). For example, you can send unique coupons if:
- A customer pays his first order.
- A customer didn't return any order in five months.
- A customer’s profile was completed.
- A customer performs any other action that matters to your business.
10. Free shipping promotions
The more you can claim something is a freebie, the more motivated your customers will be to get it. Free shipping is usually available for a minimum order amount, however, sometimes stores decide on short time events with free shipping on everything. For example, free shipping on all orders made within the next 6 hours.
11. Birthday and anniversary promotions
Birthday and anniversary campaigns are examples of sales promotions aimed at customer loyalty. Personalized campaigns are extremely important for building a loyal audience, ready to recommend your services and keep coming back for more. You can leverage live chat or emails to personalize messages with birthday and anniversary incentives such as a coupon codes with exclusive discounts or a gift cards wrapped as special gifts.
12. Retention-focused campaigns
You can use coupons and other promotion types to incentivize customers to stay with you for longer. For example, if you have a subscription-based business, you could implement a discount of 1% for each 1 month of active subscription, up to 20% discount for the most loyal customers.
13. Referral programs and word-of-mouth promotions
Referral programs are a marvellous sales promotion idea for taking advantage of the power of recommendation. No matter if you aim it at your partners or customers, both will be more encouraged to spread the word if provided with attractive rewards.
What decides the success of a referral program? In short, reward. The rewards increase the chances of word-of-mouth, priceless in acquiring new customers. Don’t know what reward to choose? Experiment and launch a referral program with multi-level reward schema to:
- Reward customers according to their engagement .
- Test which rewards works best in particular customer segments .
From all of your customers who claim that they would recommend your services to their friends, only few will actually do it. Unless you make them feel more motivated by offering a gift card, voucher, or a free product.
If you want to see how top players design their referral program customer journey, go here.
14. Loyalty programs
I don’t have to repeat how important loyalty programs are in your marketing strategy. When you build your loyalty program strategy keep in mind that acquiring a new customer is 7 times more expensive than convincing an existing client to re-purchase. A good loyalty program software is an investment that comes back.
Loyalty programs with multi-level structures have a greater chance of keeping customers interested than flat and boring point-based programs. A very effective method of increasing engagement is by adding a premium group to the top of the loyalty layers. This helps you to distinguish the most valuable customers and gives a clear goal to other members.
15. Reengagement promotions
Sometimes you need to incentivize dormant customers, and there is no better way to do it than with a fun campaign with automatic reminders running for a short period of time. If your customer didn’t use your app or haven't made an order in quite some time, send them a 10% discount for a new product to give them an extra push.
There are plenty of reasons why your customers may not use your offer right away. And it doesn’t have to mean a poor offer or that you should disqualify them right there. Reminders can increase the chance of your messages standing out. Unlike typical follow-up messages, those with coupons and other incentives carry tangible value for consumers, so may be less likely to be perceived as noisy spam.
16. Gamified promotions
You can gamify your promotions by setting conditions on actions customers have to do to earn the incentive. For example:
- “Visit us three times this week to buy at least one item and get your surprise coupon.”
- “Answer a simple question about our brand, share it on social media, and win a reward!”
To make customers more interested in your promotions, you can offer mystery coupons. Launch a coupon campaign with several variations and don't tell customers what they got. They will have to add the coupon to their basket to see what’s in there. Then, you have them one step closer to completing their order!
Promotions gamification builds unique customer experiences that increase engagement, loyalty, and retention. Read our blog post to find 10 more examples of gamified promotions you can use in your strategy.
17. Partnership coupons
You can offer a discount code for your partner’s customers and vice versa. For example, you can offer 10% off discount vouchers for customers of your partner. Your partner can advertise this offer via their channels and drive new audience to your store.
18. Feedback campaigns
You can incentivize responses to surveys, filling out profiles or leaving reviews by giving a discount coupon for those who do it. For example, offer a $5 discount coupon for filling out surveys. This type of campaign is great to build better customer relationships and improve areas of your business that you never expected needed an improvement.
19. Purchase frequency promotions
You can launch a promotion campaign for the customers who have purchased a certain number of times from you, to foster further purchases and help them build a habit of purchasing from you.
- Send 10% off coupon if a customer placed two orders this month.
- Send a 25% off coupon if a customer placed four orders this month.
- Send a $30 gift card if a customer already placed at least six orders.
20. Free samples sales promotions
A promo campaigns with free samples is a great idea that may be more beneficial than you probably think. The research shows that simple gestures significantly influence buying decisions. It’s called the reciprocity effect which can be another effective tool to increase the average spent amount.
The key is to offer a free product, sample or discount before a customer purchases – reciprocity makes your potential buyers feel obliged to repay and order or sometimes to order more than they intended at the beginning.
21. Purchase history-based coupon campaigns
You can segment customers based on the revenue they bring and create exclusive offers for those who bring the highest revenue. Remember to emphasize the individual character of the discount, to make your customers feel special. For example, add a note to the message that reads “Only for our best of the best customers.”
22. Sales promotions in social media
Social media promotions are a variation of a standard referral program. Social shares make your company visible for customers outside your regular audience. It’s a chance for new acquisitions and an increase in brand awareness. Even satisfied customers need additional motivation to share your message. Therefore make sure to offer valuable rewards for tagging your brand name on a photo or leaving a positive review.
You can also reward your customers for social media activity and interacting with your brand. For example:
- Give a 5% off coupon if a customer leaves a review on your social profile.
- Give a 10% off coupon if a customer adds a photo with your product and tags your store.
- Give a 15% off voucher if a customer shares your post on their social media profile.
23. Local events and geolocation marketing campaigns
While trying to cover a particular area with your services, you need to learn about the local audience and their habits. In the long run, global success depends on how well you can fit your sales strategy and promotional marketing to local markets. The European giant, Zalando, says that “every market needs a different strategy”. Sales promotions with local events are a chance for small companies to inscribe into local societies and compete with global market leaders.
You can launch a location-based campaign that target audience within a specified location, for example:
- 20% off coupon if a customer’s delivery address is Porto.
- 10% off coupon for a next purchase if a customer visited the new store in Berlin.
Also, customers tend to shop less when the weather is worse. You can counteract it by launching promotions during bad weather days in specific locations. Read more about it in our guide on how to build a weather-based coupon promotion.
24. Social contests promotions
Social contests can be a great sales promotion example. Contests are the best when based on things that connect your clients such as common passions or hobbies. For example, fitness & sports companies can challenge their customers with virtual runs and running shoes for winners. For instance, Dove regularly runs social campaigns to share their values and showcase unique stories of customers.
25. Affiliate or influencer campaigns
You can launch influencer or affiliate campaigns with sales promotions. You can, for example, set a discount code for each influencer or affiliate that they can share with their public that gives 5% off for the new customers who use it. Then, you can count the number of customers acquired with that code and compensate your influencers or affiliates for the brought traffic accordingly.
26. Gated promotions
You can create campaigns only for a specific customer group, for example only for NHS workers. For instance, offer a free coffee for NHS workers only if they purchase any food item in your cafe. This one can be also used for b2b sales promotion ideas.
27. Abandoned cart promotions
With more than 60% of carts abandoned, discounts have become the perfect way to nudge the customers along the sales funnel.
Research says that the abandoned cart offers recover between 3% and 11% of orders. Instant messages with a 5% or 10% discount are usually enough to note a significant uplift in recovery rates. Go here to see our analysis of some great cart abandoned campaigns.
28. Frequent customer promotions
The frequent customer program is a variation of loyalty program that rewards customers for their loyalty. As a frequent customer, your audience can earn free credits for the making X number of orders, leaving a positive review or referring your company to family and friends. Customers can later use these credits to get discounts, charge gift cards for free or get exclusive, complimentary services such as free dinner at selected restaurants. You can divide the program into different tiers with different perks – the more points, the higher the level and better perks.
This type of sales promotion is often used by airlines. We wrote a dedicated post about it here.
29. Sign-up promotions
This kind of sales promotion can be tricky. On the one hand, it is a very common and effective tactic to enlarge a number of new acquisitions and a list of your subscribers. On the other hand, how can you know what offer will work for your potential buyers if you don’t know them yet? In the case of a sign-up promotion, we recommend starting by checking the performance of different discount variants before you decide which one should be your standard sign-up offer.
30. Temporary free balance
This is another example of psychological marketing. Adding a temporary free balance drives customers into loss aversion behavior. People endowed with unexpected gains usually try very hard not to lose them. In the case of a sales promotion, this means they are very likely to make a purchase due to saving the balance for themselves before it’s gone. This kind of sales promotion pairs well with gift cards.
31. Pain points sales promotions ideas
Discounts, gift cards or coupons can say more than a simple "we're sorry" to unsatisfied customers. Mistakes happen everywhere, and so, each company sooner or later needs to schedule an “emergency strategy” to tackle such fires. It's good to have a promotion ready to be triggered every time your team lets down a customer. The best effect is achieved if you deliver a discount in a personalized message.
32. Seasonal promotions
Keep an eye on special days like national holidays to send wishes with an exclusive discount. For example:
- Offer a 20% discount on Black Friday.
- Share a $20 gift card for specific items a week or two before the important day.
Read our blog post about seasonal promotion ideas to find more inspirations.
Each sales promotion idea you decide to use needs to be enrolled on a micro-scale first. Not every discount or buying scenario will fit your audience. Ultimately, the way you design promotions should target your audience. Any successful sales promotion is a combination of a clever idea, endless testing, customer tracking, and target adjustments. I hope that this list of examples and inspirations will help you find an appropriate promotion strategy suited to your business, wallet, and creativity and boost sales and your revenue.
See more trade promotions ideas