A Welcome Gift?

Call me crazy, but if you woo me as a customer with your distinctive merchandise, then the next thing you do is offer a discount, you’ve turned me off. Sure, many customers are strictly deal hunters and if price is your competitive differentiator, then so be it. But if your business is all about cool products or unique customer experiences, then starting off with a discount undermines the rest of your marketing efforts.

Consider my recent experience with The Grommet, a retail site that offers an assortment of curious but useful products. I visited the site, joined its email list, and dropped an item in my cart. It was a gift, so I wanted to double check that it would be a hit (versus a “What were you thinking?”) so I closed out of the site and went on with my day.

Fast forward a few days and the Grommet emails me with $5 off to purchase the item in my cart (and whatever else might strike my fancy). What I learned from that email: Anytime I want to buy something from the Grommet and don’t want to pay full price I can just drop it in my cart, close out of the site, and wait for an offer.

But, wait, there’s more. I didn’t bite at the $5. I was still torn about the item; price wasn’t the issue.  So a few days later I get another email from the Grommet offering $10 off a purchase. I have to admit that it was tempting. And a way of showing how much the retailer wants my business. However, let’s put that aside for a moment and focus on what The Grommet taught me with that email: If I’m really patient, the offer will double.

Certainly, the Grommet isn’t the only retailer guilty of these tactics. But it’s not what I expected from a company with a tagline of “Buy Differently.”

Contrast this with clothing retailer Anthropology, whose emails I also get. Last winter I clicked through to a sweater that had my name all over it. I dropped it in my cart, and then started to have second thoughts. It was pricey and I was concerned about fit. So I decided to check it out in store. Anthropology sent an optimally spaced series of reminder emails. Not one of them included an offer. Instead, the messaging was around this special item I shouldn’t miss out on.

The final reminder email was months later, so I decided to click through it since I hadn’t bought the sweater. Surprise! The sweater was actually on sale, which wasn’t noted in the email. But Anthropology isn’t about price. Sure, like most every retailer, it puts items on sale at the end of the season, and will send a separate email about that. But unlike far too many retailers, the bulk of its emails are about what makes it unique, what makes customers want to shop there in particular: its merchandise. And over months of emailing me about that one sweater, it stuck to that messaging. You have to admire that. I certainly do.

Again, many customers are bargain hunters, and if that’s who you want as your customer, make every email about what’s on sale. But if you want customers who will stick around despite price, who will pay more for your cool stuff or unique experiences, then lay off the constant deals. All you’re doing is training customers to never pay full price and creating price-based promiscuity, instead of long-term customer loyalty.

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