Online stores, tired of shoppers wanting sales every day, are weaning them off special promotions, hoping to protect their tender margins.
This holiday season, sales at online stores are higher than expected, engorged to “12 percent in the first 47 days of the holiday season.”
But online retailers have grown tired of shoppers wanting sales every day, sometimes several times a day. “They come here expecting to take as much as they want and fighting among themselves for the best stuff,” said Bonobos, a mens clothing site. “By the end of the day, I’m so sore that I’m not sure I can do it again the next day.”
Retailers are now protecting their tender margins by eliminating offers meant to stimulate shoppers’ hunger and get rid of excess liquid inventory. Gone are coupons that invite shoppers to suck at retailer’s teats indefinitely.
Instead, promotions are designed to get shoppers to behave in a certain way. Drugstore.com is using discount coupons to encourage one-time customers to shop around at other stores. “We’d like them to get to know what a retailer offers before latching on for the next twelve months,” said David Lactier, chief marketing officer.
During the recession, online retailers were lax in weaning customers off their goodies. “Every retailer was competing to get the customers to bite,” said Nancy Mammar, a consultant with an industry trade group. “Earlier promotions were meant to move excess inventory. But now, if anything, retailers are low on inventory because consumers sucked a lot more out of them than they expected them to.”
Given their strong position, retailers are trying to get customers out of the unlimited feeding mind-set that they adopted during the recession.
But when is the right time to wean customers off your stuff? Ms. Mammar says that it’s not set in stone. “It depends a lot on your circumstances. Remember, you don’t have to set a deadline for weaning unless you and your customers are ready.”
Still, anxiety persists among the online retailers, for both those who have already cut off their customers and those who are letting them hold on for a while longer.
“Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing,” said Amazon.com, the online retailer that has had customers at its teats since 1995. “I was out to dinner the other night with BestBuy and PetCo when my customers got cranky because I didn’t want to take care of them right then.”
Asked about it’s continued heavy flow of sales, Gap.com said, “Banana Republic gets jealous of all the time I spend nursing my customers. I try to tell it that I’ll wean them eventually. Now is just not the right time, especially with the recession.”
For those retailers who are having difficulty weaning their customers, Ms. Mammar offers these suggestions:
- Skip a sale.
- Shorten sale time.
- Postpone and distract.
“Customers are easily distracted by music and cheap gift bags,” she said. “When they get irritable, especially after you’ve had a long day, just crinkle some pretty tissue paper in their faces.”
Bloomingdales, which also has an online presence, said this about successfully weaning its customers, “Weaning is a long goodbye, but it doesn’t mean an end to the intimacy you have with your customers. It just means you have to give them other nurturing activities, such as free make-overs in your stores.”