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How can ecommerce businesses run seasonal promotions?

Seasonal promotions can be fantastic opportunities to drive customer engagement, reach new users and ultimately elevate your online store's conversion rate and average order value. But distinguishing your brand during the busy holiday seasons requires clever marketing and smart partnerships, among other efforts. Odds are, many of your competitors are running promotions tied to the same events that are on your marketing calendar. To set yourself apart from the pack, consider these proven strategies:

Structure tiered incentives

Setting thresholds that trigger additional savings can incentivize customers to spend more, which dramatically increase your average order value. That means rather than simply offering 20 percent off a selection of products, consider structuring the promotion so that when customers buy one product they receive the second half off. Buy-one-get-one isn't the only tiered discount to consider. You can also offer free gift-wrapping, shipping or a gift once customers spend a certain amount.

Offering free shipping can help boost your average order value by as much as 30 percent in just a few months. One tip for figuring out what the minimum threshold for free shipping should be: calculate your average order value and shipping cost, then offer free shipping on your AOV 10 percent. From there, compare to your profits without the promotion and adjust the percentage accordingly.

Highlight your curating capabilities

Even if your entire online store is on discount, you can deliver extra value to customers by offering targeted lists that save time. For instance, during the holidays you might advertise a buy-one-get-one seasonal promotion on all toys. But to make taking advantage of that promotion quick and easy, you could create separate Toy Wish Lists for kids under 2 years old, for preschoolers, for preschoolers, 1-3 graders and so on. Or, to promote a sale tied to National Teacher Appreciate Week, you might create a Hot List of the top teacher gifts so online shoppers can just skim the list and click to purchase. Offering relevant products is a win-win that saves consumers time, increases your average order value and creates more loyal customers.

Partner with nonprofits

A growing number of retailers are partnering with not-for-profits to offer feel-good seasonal promotions, in which every purchase made by the consumer triggers a product donation. Cause marketing is catching on with consumers, too. Most Americans say they are more likely to shop at retailers who give back to causes they support.

Start by focusing on a not-for-profit that aligns with your brand and product offerings, whether that means an animal shelter for an online shop that sells high-end dog supplies or a food bank for a kitchen retailer. Then get creative about ways to spark sales by tying a seasonal promotion to that charity. It could be as simple as donating a portion of your proceeds from the promotion to the charity or offering a special discount to consumers who volunteer time or money to the charity. Alternatively, if your products suit the charity's cause, you could offer a seasonal promotion where every purchase prompts an in-kind product donation. Whichever structure you choose, make sure you capture the full ROI of the cause marketing by broadcasting the feel-good component across all of your marketing materials.

Set realistic shipping expectations

Seasonal promotions, by definition, are time sensitive. No customers are going to want to purchase swimsuits that won't be delivered until autumn, and no one wants Christmas gifts just in time for the New Year. To help prevent disappointment, set clear shipping policies and hold firm to order deadlines that customers must meet to receive their purchases by a particular date. You can even increase the sense of urgency by displaying a prominent countdown on your site (e.g. "Six days left to order for Christmas delivery!"). And try to resist cutting turnaround time to the bare minimum. While it's noble to want to accommodate every rush order, during the major seasonal shopping periods many postal carriers are at maximum capacity. If they estimate one to three days, it's safest to assume it will take the full three days.

Market your promotions

No matter how fantastic your seasonal promotion is, it's unlikely to generate much buzz or additional revenue if potential customers don't hear about it. Pair your seasonal promotion with targeted marketing campaigns to help get the word out. Tailor your approach to every place you communicate with customers (email marketing, social media posts, internal banner ads and direct mail). And don't rely on one trumpet blast to be enough. A month-long seasonal promotion, for instance, might warrant ongoing marketing efforts before the promotion starts. Track the performance of your seasonal promotion in real time to tweak and refine your marketing message while the promotion is still up and running.

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