Specials, Discounts and Giveaways: Will They Bring People to Your Site More Often?


I like to reward people who are nice to me by being nice to them. A good client gets a discount, a close friend gets free help with their design work or writing needs and I give social media advice to my favorite eateries because I want them to stay in business and keep feeding me. Advice is no big deal for me. I’ve certainly given enough of it away by speaking at colleges or design groups and you’ll find me on many LinkedIn groups, trying to help out others. I look at it as good karma and hopefully people will remember my kindness and good advice and it will gain a new client down the road. Some of the time that happens and it’s well worth it.

Reaching out to clients has the same karma, without, of course, having to lose your shirt by giving something away. Case in point is one of my favorite lunchtime eateries. A small place that has short hours, the lunch crowd has to provide them with the same income that other places make from a breakfast, lunch and dinner crowd. The owner was a very nice man who would stop and chat with me when I came in and always made sure I was happy with my order. He also made sure I received a very healthy order of crinkle cut French fries… if one can call any deep fried food “healthy.”

I would usually eat lunch a little later in the day and noticed that the restaurant had a big dead spot between the normal lunch and dinner crowd. I asked him one day about this dead spot and he said it was tough on his business but his location served mostly business people who either did lunch or picked something up for dinner at the office or to go for a quick meal at home. That’s when I asked about his social media outreach.

“My son takes care of that,” he said as his son waved from behind the deep fat fryer. I motioned for him to come join us and he sat down and gulped down a well-deserved soda. He said he had been on his feet, in front of the fryer and grill for the entire morning and afternoon.

“When do you get a chance to keep up with the social media of this place?” I asked.

“Sometimes when I get home, I’ll tweet something.”

I looked up their Twitter account and the posts read, “tough day really tired,” “must have fried two-hundred pounds of potatoes today” and “some customers are just crazy!”

I looked at the young man and joked that he tweeted that on a day I wasn’t eating there, so it couldn’t have been me. We all laughed and I started getting serious.

“The good news, “ I said with all seriousness, “is that no one saw this tweet. It was two o’clock in the morning and you only have twenty-six followers who, I’m guessing, are your employees and close friends.”

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The heads nodded as another worker came from behind the counter to listen in on the conversation.

“What other social media channels do you have?”

“We have a web site with the menu,” said the owner.

I looked at the site on my cell phone. “You need a mobile-friendly site for people on the go and it’ll help if you have a Foursquare account and tweet some specials.”

“I’ve heard of Foursquare,” said the son “but I haven’t had time to really check it out.”

“Let’s get back to what you have and how you can best use it and worry about the other stuff down the road.” Without a professional behind them, they weren’t going to be able to build a good mobile site and more social media outlets to update would not work at two o’clock in the morning.

“I munched down a few fries to give myself time to formulate my thoughts. “You have several dozen menu items. Do you stock all the food to make these items?”

“Yes,” said the owner. “We do have a call for everything, just not every day.”

“Do you end up throwing away a lot of food at the end of the week?”

“Well, we take home what we can’t legally serve,” replied the son. The owner didn’t look happy at that answer.

“If you feel you can’t cut down your menu, then you need to offer daily specials when the food supplies are almost on the edge,” I suggested. “You need to tweet these specials to get people in during these dead spots, too!”

Everyone’s head cocked to the side like dogs do when they’re trying to figure out that if you threw the ball, why don’t they see it bouncing down the backyard.

“Let’s start with Twitter,” I said. “You have no signs that tell people you’re on Twitter or have a web site. You need to tell people these things so you can build a following, then you need to use tweets to advertise some specials. What’s more, have a sign that says they should follow you for daily specials for discounts and free items and watch your followers climb over one-hundred by the end of the week”

Heads cocked to the other side.

“Okay. Let’s say you have too much makings for the Italian Beef sandwiches…” The heads straightened up and they all leaned forward. I guess I mentioned the right menu item. “Tweet at two o’clock in the afternoon that the Italian Beef sandwiches are half off between two o’clock and four o’clock and people will flood in. Maybe offer a sandwich and free fries or a dessert, depending on what you have to give away without too much of a loss. If you have those small rolls and they’re going to be stale the next day, offer sliders. See what I’m getting at?”

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The owner got it. The son looked dazed and nervous.

“You know” I continued, hoping to stop the son from jumping into the fryer head first at the thought he might be forced to tweet while the sun was still shining, “there’s a Twitter app that will allow you to write a tweet and have it posted at a set time? Just look at your inventory at the end of the day and plan the next days specials.”

“You should also Xerox a sheet announcing specials posted to Twitter and the Twitter name for people to follow and slip one into every to go order,” I suggested.

Everyone leaned back and smiled. The beginning of a great solution was in the works. I finished my fries and said we’d get into Foursquare the next time I was there. Everyone went back behind the counter and the owner smiled and waved to me as he and his son opened the cooler to what I assume was a quick inventory of what could be offered as a special the following day.

I went back to my studio and researched a few avenues that would help out the restaurant and keep me in free fries. A week later I shot down to the eatery only to find it closed. “How could I have given them such bad advice?” was my first humorous thought. Unfortunately, as I found out months later, it was an unpaid tax bill that closed them down. My suggestions were sound… just a bit too late.

Had the tax bill not shut down the place, in practice, the plan to offer specials would have brought in more repeat customers while making what would have been expired stock recoup the wholesale cost and attract new clientele as well. Follow growth on Twitter because of announced specials that would pop up without prior notice would increase traffic not only to the Twitter page, but also have people cross referencing the web site to check the menu. Web site traffic is a captive audience for other announcements and specials.

The restaurant had one special that was an eating challenge such as Man vs. Food. The owner had told me that the show had contacted him about filming an episode in the shop. Imagine news like that getting out in town?

Those Who Got It… In Time!

If you’ve ever bought something online, and chances are you have, you receive email messages with specials from that company. Out of curiosity from seeing a very nicely done Facebook ad and automatic inserts on friend’s feeds when they joined the site, I registered for fab.com. Fab is a high-end online retailer of furniture, clothing, toys, home accessories and even food items. They use email marketing to announce nightly sales but it seems all they do is hold sales. Once or twice a day, you will receive an email spotlighting the current sale and you have to act quickly.

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While email marketing is plagued by a low open rate, Fab sends the emails with full subject lines, which include all of the items on sale. It doesn’t just say, “tonight’s sale” or “check out this sale.” The subject line is the eye-catcher and the use of full character listings increases the opening rate, even within the opt-in membership.

All successful ecommerce sites use the same formula for emarketing. If you bought one thing, you are likely to buy again. If you know of a sale, you are more likely to buy even more.

Ebay was an early pioneer in how it evolved their site. By creating power sellers and online stores, they gave users options and backed them up with a structure of protection and rules that guaranteed smooth operations. Smart power users keep in touch with their buyers to advertise sales and special items. The old Main Street specialty shop taken online through technology. The idea is the personal connection with customers; offer them the products in which they are interested by bringing it right into their home… via their computer, iPad or smartphone.

Discount by Design

Several years ago I met a very smart man who owned a business that produced licensed items that you find in the convenience stores at gas stations. Sunglasses, hats, lighters, beer koozies and other junk no one needs but buys because it had NASCAR, Budweiser or recent movie logos on them. He explained that he gave all of his merchandise a twelve-week lifespan and then pulled it off the shelves for the next round of useless crap. What did he do with all of the old merchandise? He put it online with “big discounts” which meant he still made a profit. His reasoning was that the people who saw the items in the stores but didn’t buy them got a second chance and thought they were getting a huge bargain. Sleazy… maybe but very, very smart!

Because people were drawn to the site for such fabulous bargains, they also bought more and so, his profit was further increased. Less profit per piece online but a greater return through volume.

As with the items shown on the emails included in this article, even discounts will draw big profits. Like the restaurant that should have offered daily specials and discounts, they still would have turned a profit for each sandwich and sold the high-profit side items that would have paid the tax bill and assured me of some damn good food for lunch.

Top image ©GL Stock Images

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