Business, Storenvy

How to run a successful sale: A handmade shop owner’s guide to discounts & promotions

Choosing which promotion to offer is the first step to launching a sale. Each type has it’s pros & cons. Over the years I’ve ran several promotions with varying degrees of success & a while ago, I did a poll and collected almost 2,000 responses. The question was: What type of promotion makes you more likely to buy from a brand you’ve never heard of? The options were percent off, dollar off, BOGO, free gift with purchase & free shipping. Below I’ll share my results, some of my own experiences & things to consider about each type of sale.

etsy, storenvy, selling online, sales

Free shipping

In the poll I did, it ranked the #1 sale incentive for a buyer to take the leap & make a purchase from a new brand. It seems more people could be tempted to make a purchase if free shipping is offered than if a store wide sale was running – but keep in mind shipping costs can add up quickly. Before committing to a free shipping sale make sure you can cover the expenses involved for packaging materials and shipping costs without your business losing money. I ran a free shipping promo once after conducting this study & while I did have several sales, none were from new buyers & I ended up losing a quite a bit of money on shipping because my Mon-stors can be a bit heavy to mail. If your items are light & affordable to ship, this could be a great sale promo for you to run!

Percent off

This was a very close second in the poll I conducted, so close I even ran a second poll a few months later about how much of a promotion was needed for a buyer to try a new brand for the first time. The options were <10%-50%. Guess what the result was?
Less than 9% of respondents said they would consider a business offering less than 20% off, while about a quarter of the respondents said 30% or higher would have to be offered to get their attention. I did a little experimenting with codes, and 20% does seem to be that sweet spot to drive new sales. Anything below that was kind of a bust.
So, these discounts can be tricky, because you have to offer a deep enough discount to make the buyer feel like they are really getting a great deal, especially if you offer percent off sales in your store throughout the year as buyer incentive. An idea to make percent off sales seem more appealing is to convert it to a dollar amount – “Save 30% today! That is up to $X off!” Most people won’t even look twice if a discount isn’t a steep enough to catch their attention when there are other things with bigger discounts to be bought, especially around Black Friday or during the holiday season in general, with big box stores and larger online shops that are boasting 50% off and other crazy discounts on TV, the radio, in the paper, and everywhere else you turn.

Buy x, get x

This is a great option if you have a large inventory of items ready to ship. You can get creative with this discount  and  offer deals like buy a necklace, get a free pair of matching earrings or buy two purses (one for you, one for a friend!) and get a free wallet. Be expressive in your wording and help buyers visualize buying two or more of your products as gifts for themselves, friends, family, teachers, and co-workers. Even if your products aren’t particularly their cup of tea, the goal is to make the buy x get x option tantalizing as a way to get multiple gifts with one purchase.

Free gift with purchases

This can be a great buyer incentive! If you are going to offer a free gift with each purchase be clear about what the gift is and add a photograph of it to each qualifying listing, and make sure you have enough of the free items in excess of projected orders. Use images of the free item when promoting the sale too – this is MUCH more effective than offering some “mystery” item for free with purchase. People like to know what they are getting, usually. And the entire drive of this sale is that you are offering a little something extra. So tell them what it is!
Things to keep in mind: free items aren’t “free” – make sure offering a free gift is cost effective, and if you are making the free gifts, make sure the amount of production time spent on them doesn’t cut into your business productivity and set back your inventory production schedule for the holidays.

Dollar off purchase

Offering a set amount off ($10 off a $75 order) can be very tantalizing for buyers! It can take a product from just out of their budget and drop it right onto their to-buy/gift list. I have had very good luck with this type of sale, but remember to be very specific when marketing this kind of promotion – if the sale is only on purchases over X dollar amount, be very clear about the amount every time you promote it. It stinks to see an ad for a potentially great sale, just to visit the shop, add items to cart, and find out you have to spend $3 more to qualify but the cheapest product is $15 so you sigh & just close the browser. If I know going in I have to spend X amount, I’m more likely to just add the $15 item to my cart – aren’t you? Otherwise it feels like the sale is just a ploy to make money (which it usually is, but you never want your clients feeling that way).

Also, if the sale is only applicable to certain products you carry, be very detailed about what is included and excluded when promoting this sale, IE: “$10 off all purse purchases made today!! Sale excludes diaper bags, wallets, and wristlets.” Otherwise, make the discount applicable to all items in your store, or just hide the items you don’t want in the sale. Nothing is a bigger bummer than that ONE item you want not being part of the sale.

Things to keep in mind no matter what promotion you are running

  • Don’t be complicated – keep sales as simple as possible – don’t insert tons of terms and conditions, just offer discounts that are easy for buyers to use.
  • Keep discount codes short, simple and easy to remember.
  • Be very clear about the terms of your sale every time you mention so there is no confusion when the big day comes.
  • Photos are shared more via social media than text and link posts – create a banner for your sale event with all the details of the sale and your URL, and ask people to spread the word!
  • Be clear and adamant about when the sale starts and  ends. It is not fair to anyone if you let someone pre-shop or hold items at sale prices for late comers.
  • Be sure to note if other coupons or discount codes can be used in conjunction with your  sale. You may have a free shipping code floating around out there that someone may double up with the special. If double discounts aren’t okay with you, update all your listings and policies to reflect this and consider editing your banner to have this text visible at the top of your shop during the sale time and mention it several times via social media before the big sales starts. No one likes those pointy-finger posts after a sale starts & someone has doubled up, so be preemptive with the gentle reminder that you don’t allow two discounts to be used at once. If possible, deactivate all other codes during the sale.
  • Offer (free) gift wrapping and offer to ship to recipients – making gifting your products easy for buyers!

If you have an indie biz: what sales/promotions have been most effective for you? As a shopper: what sales/promotions are most likely to push you to take the plunge & try a new indie businesses products or services? 

4 thoughts on “How to run a successful sale: A handmade shop owner’s guide to discounts & promotions”

  1. Thanks for the tips! I sell my jewelry on Etsy and deciding what kind of promotion to run usually feels like a bit of a coin toss. But as a buyer, I’d have to agree that free shipping or at least 20% off would probably be the most motivating.


  2. This is a little off topic, but I took a poll not too long ago about higher prices with free shipping versus “regular” prices and pay for shipping. Everyone would rather have the free shipping. The most stated reason was that they didn’t have to be concerned with surprise shipping costs at checkout. This circles back to what you were saying about simple sales and no surprises at the end.


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