Becoming a success as an ecommerce seller tends to be a long, confusing, and often-arduous process, all because there’s no one magic formula for getting it right. Instead, there’s a complex web of overlapping best practices — tactics for achieving specific things that must be used together at the right times, on the right pages, and for the right visitors.

In this piece, we’re going to look specifically at the tactic of using offers: tempting deviations from your store’s regular value propositions. They’re incredibly important, particularly at this time of year — the lead-in to the Black Friday period kicked things off, and they won’t settle down until February at the earliest (BFCM ceded to Christmas sales which will cede to January sales).

The problem for many retailers is not only that they are limited in what they can offer (whether by the products they offer or the cost margins they can afford) but also that they have so many creative avenues from which to choose. How can they pick, and how can they practically execute if they do? Let’s answer these questions.

Know what you can practically provide

As noted, every retailer is limited by their circumstances, and it isn’t worth providing irresistible offers if you bankrupt your business in the process. It’s all about getting the balance right: finding a scenario that will benefit shoppers enough to turn them into buyers while allowing you to profit in the process.

Start by noting down your profit margins. Can you afford to cut 10% from your prices? 20%? You’re obviously just looking at a temporary adjustment, but even that can be enough to lose you a significant sum of money if you miscalculate severely. And how many products can you ship within a certain period?

Imagine that you hit upon a fantastic offer that will bring in the customers and earn you profit, but you forget that you only have 10 products in stock — when hundreds of orders come in, you’ll end up disappointing people and making them less likely to buy from you in the future. Understand your limits, know how far you can push things, then continue.

Review what your competitors are doing

Originality is a nice idea, but it doesn’t really exist in practice, because creativity is mostly about getting inspiration and coming up with some tweaks. As such, there’s little to be gained from starting with a blank canvas — to fuel up on ideas, head to the websites of your competitors and pay close attention to the offers they’re using.

Are they compelling? Disappointing? Going by stock levels, how are they performing? You must also use this opportunity to see what specific products and discounts are on the table, because you may not need to beat them. If you sell clothing and everyone else is running offers on hats, then you may benefit from running offers on shirts.

Once you’ve thoroughly reviewed what’s currently on offer, you’ll know which areas to avoid (and which ones have room to be targeted), and roughly what types of offer you’ll want to provide. You can then move to the creative stage.

Use FOMO as the cornerstone of your strategy

FOMO, or fear of missing out, is one of the biggest conversion-drivers in the ecommerce world. Once it enters the equation, a prospective customer’s ability to make a rational choice significantly decreases, and they become highly susceptible to making snap decisions (often about products they don’t really need).

In every offer you create, you should strive to provide this type of urgency. Present each offer as fixed-term, limited-edition, only around for a brief moment that will pass the shoppers by if they don’t act quickly. Mention expiry dates and dwindling stock levels to push people to worry that they’ll end up disappointed if they don’t buy immediately.

But this isn’t the only way to use FOMO, because social proof is also massive. On your biggest offers, prominently display glowing testimonials from happy customers. Online shoppers can easily be skeptical about the trustworthiness of sites (especially since offers can often drag people to sites they haven’t visited before), so provide clear evidence that your site is absolutely worth their time and effort.

Target general and seasonal pressures

There’s a lot of talk in ecommerce about “pain points”: the sore spots and sources of frustration that push people to search for solutions through retail. Someone might want a TV because they really enjoy visual media, sure, but they also might want to bolster their social standing (perhaps all their friends have big TVs but they don’t).

That’s something you could address through a creative element in your offer. Instead of just “Get 10% off this TV”, you could say “Invite all your friends around with 10% off this TV” — something that plays off that social pressure.

And seasonal pressures are particularly powerful. We’re currently in the early stages of the hectic pre-Christmas marketing period, and people are starting to think about Christmas gifts. Play off this pressure with your offers. “20% off last-minute Christmas gifts” will be extremely effective in the week leading up to Christmas Day, for instance.

If you don’t really sell Christmas items, then you can try a combination of the following:

  • Accessorize with a temporary side store. Dropshipping allows you to sell Christmas items without any inventory. Snag a suitable store for a small amount of money, offer some Christmas products alongside your usual inventory and sell as much as you can during the seasonal crush.
  • Offer custom print-on-demand items. Print-on-demand is like dropshipping for custom items: you list customizable items in your store (e.g. t-shirts), then pass the orders to a print-on-demand service to be produced and shipped. Here are some viable services.
  • Contrive a festive angle anyway. Let’s say you sell office supplies, and you don’t think they’ll make for good Christmas gifts. Try it anyway! Something like “Fearing the post-Christmas office backlog? Get prepared with 15% off all office supplies” could work.

The periods around Christmas, Black Friday, Halloween, etc. are all incredible opportunities, so be sure to prepare plenty of offers ahead of time and dole them out as the hype increases.

Experiment until you find your formula

Every ecommerce seller has a unique challenge ahead of them, resulting from the combination of their specific inventory, circumstances, brand identity, location, and target audience. This means that a strategy that works wonders for a similar brand might not work for yours, which might sound negative, but it also means that you can find a formula that works only for you.

And you don’t find this formula through endless ideation sessions: you find it through experimentation. Try some offers and see how they work. Learn from the results and the feedback and try again. You’ll know when particular offers are resonating with your website’s visitors, and have the chance to figure out why they work so well.

Analyze as closely as you can, factor in the most important KPIs, and you should eventually see a steady progression in the performance of your offers — how many conversions they drive, how much time they save, and how they flesh out your brand identity.