How to run a successful sale

Tips on timing, pricing and marketing

Everyone loves a good sale. But is it just as simple as sticking on a few new price tags or putting up some ‘15% off’ signs? Not quite. As with any decision a small business owner makes, choosing to run a sale involves planning and consideration, not to mention some marketing savvy. Here’s how to make sure yours is a successful one.

Make it shop-worthy.

Before running a sale, think about which products or services to offer and how to discount them. Ask yourself, “What would my customers get excited about?” Prepare ahead of time so you don't rush into it.

Run the numbers.

While you want to offer your customers the best discount possible, you still want the sale to be profitable. Consider how you discount items. Sometimes you can actually make some extra profit by playing with your pricing to make a discount seem more enticing and encouraging customers to buy.

One trick is the “100 rule” - if you’re selling something that costs less than £100, offer a percentage off, and if you’re selling something that costs more than £100, offer an amount off. The brain likes round numbers, so if you’re selling a £4000 service, offering £500 off sounds a lot better than a 12.5% discount.

Get creative.

A sale doesn’t just have to be tied to a discount — sales can reflect changing seasons, holidays, local events and more. Hitting the market at just the right moment can make a sale great. Consider ‘Back to School’ in the late Summer, or concentrating on items that reflect uses in the Autumn or Spring. Cafes, for example, will promote iced coffees in the Summer and spiced hot drinks in the Winter.

Word of warning: Running multiple sales in a small time frame may hurt your image. You don’t want to be seen as the business who’s always running a new sale, because customers will become trained to wait for the next big discount before buying from you.

Bundle up.

Offer similar products (cross-sell) and add-ons (upsell) to the existing purchase at checkout. These items can really boost your business during a sale, and can be a good opportunity to test new products or promote existing items that customers may not have been aware of.

Spread the word.

A sale isn’t successful if no one shows up. Whether it’s through your social media channels, new marketing materials like flyers and postcards or via a simple sign in your shop window, let customers know you’re doing something special. The delivery of the sale message is also important. If you need to move products to make space for new stock, how about advertising “50% off blue suede shoes – this week only.” This message includes exclusivity, which will help convince a consumer to buy. You can try a more aggressive approach – “All blue suede shoes must go NOW! Huge savings up to 50% off!” – so your customers know the urgency of the sale, and their subconscious will tell them to get there before the shoes are gone. The most important thing is to choose when to have a major sale and when to be a little more understated. An idea that incorporates a sale with a positive association to your brand identity could be celebrating with your customer – “It’s our 10-year anniversary, so you get 10% off your purchase.” This way everyone can win!