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The Psychology Behind Sales Promotions

What is the psychology behind the most popular sales promotions? What type of promotions works best? Read on to learn how to deliver more effective sales promotions without spending more thanks to marketing psychology.

The Psychology Behind Sales Promotions

With the move to digital over the past decade, consumers are spending more and more time on their phones. This created a huge opportunity for brands to be closer to consumers. At the same time, the sheer number of new direct-to-consumer companies popping up all over the place, spending tons on customer acquisition raised the bar for keeping customers loyal and engaged long-term.

Figuring out a way to develop and maintain relationships with the consumer is challenging on many levels, including data collection, software integration, communication, and calculating promo budget. That’s why introducing or reintroducing sales promotions can get expensive very fast and end up not creating value for a company. 

Are you looking for inspirations for your next sales promotion? Check our list of 20+ examples!

Designing any promotion should start with creating value for the consumer and for you. It boils down to leveraging the gaps between a consumer’s perceived value of something and your cost to provide it. These marketing psychology insights might help you identify these gaps and create offers that consumers value but cost you very little.

To learn more about particular marketing psychology phenomenons, please check out the dedicated posts below:


Read the Complete Guide to the Psychology Behind Promotions



Below, you will find a short summary of the key points to remember if you want to apply these psychological tricks into your promotional strategy. If you are interested in learning about all of them, make sure to download our ebook!

How the psychology behind free shipping affects customer behaviour?

In 2004, professor David Bell showed in his study that the cost of delivery and additional handling costs that appear in the first step of finalizing the order cause as much as 52% of cart abandonment.

For modern retailers and DTC brands,  free delivery is standard for orders exceeding the agreed order. Of course, the delivery is not completely "free," and its cost is usually included in the product price of the product, or in the case of larger orders it is simply treated as a discount to the order.

What about the psychology behind this promotion type?

Customers love the word FREE even more than you expect. The more you can claim something is a freebie, the more motivated your customers will be to get it. Free delivery is an additional incentive for customers who are more likely to buy something else just to exceed the order threshold to attain it. Then, customers feel that instead of paying for the shipment, they will pay as much when buying another product and therefore save money in the process. The price threshold for free shipping not only protects your store from overcharging shipping costs, but is also a way of motivating customers to buy more products through bundling.

The Endowment Effect

As customers value things more when they feel they own them, you can offer them a sense of ownership over coupons and sales promotions to increase engagement, and consequently sales. How to do that? The research suggests that one way to give customers a sense of ownership over promotions is to offer them a coupon that behaves or feels more like a savings card or a digital wallet. 

Gift cards do the trick, too, as they feel more permanent than a random coupon code. The way you phrase your promotions also matters. Try to use phrases like “Here’s your 25$” or “We’ve added 10$ to your card.”

The power of product comparisons

Another interesting promotion psychology example is the Decoy Effect. This effect occurs when customers opt for the third option (the decoy) when faced with two other choices. For example, if you have an expensive product A with all features and a product C that’s cheaper but missing in functionality, the purchase of the product B which is reasonably priced and offers essential functionality would be considered a bargain. 

The Decoy Effect highlights the fact that you need to be aware of what product options you put in front of your customers (and how you do it). That means you need to consider how customers will make trade-offs between products, and whether you may already have items acting as decoys. 

Why does the sense of doing good make customers spend more?

The Licensing Effect occurs when people are more likely to act in a morally bad way after doing something morally good. Why does this happen? The performance of the morally positive act boosts our positive self-concept, which later on licenses the choice of a more self-indulgent and option. 

This psychological effect can be successfully incorporated into your sales strategy by highlighting the good customers bring by purchasing your products or services. You simply need to give your customers a reason to feel moral (or morally superior) by shopping with you. Brands that have some form of social conscientiousness built into them should be sure to prominently display this fact: “By shopping with us, you are doing X good thing!”

The psychology of demographic affinity

Most businesses fail to utilize the full power behind incorporating demographic information into their marketing strategy. In most cases, the usage of demographic data revolves around which ads to show which customer group. However, this data can be leveraged to do so much more. Customers wanting to form a coherent identity and searching for the sense of affinity will be more likely persuaded by identity marketing.

Demographic data allows you to construct similar appeals – “4 out of 5 men prefer X” or “2 out of 3 San Franciscans like Y” will be much more persuasive than simply targeting men from San Francisco with ads for X and Y. Instead of targeting demographic, you should focus your marketing efforts on targeting identities. 

Reference Pricing

Sales promotions are a key ingredient to boosting customer engagement and loyalty with your brand. Why? The answer is surprisingly simple – people love to get good deals, or at least, the feeling that comes with getting a deal. The Reference Pricing Effect is all about building this positive feeling that comes with finding a bargain. 

One of the most direct ways to influence customer perception of what deal they are actually getting is by using reference prices. This trick is simple – instead of presenting only the price that customers have to pay, make sure to include another product price that makes the first choice look like a good deal. This is why it is important to highlight the previous price during sale. 

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Learn how Voucherify can help you leverage marketing psychology for more engaging promotions.

  • Learn what are the most popular marketing psychology tricks.
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Explore 10 Coupon Campaign Setups in Voucherify

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  • See how to recreate the campaigns step-by-step in Voucherify.

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