Holiday Blues: Lost Opportunities, Knee-Jerk Discounts

12/06/2011 11:37 am ET | Updated Feb 05, 2012

THE CHALLENGE: As the holiday season kicked off, online and offline marketers wasted millions of precious opportunities to engage with customers, capture preferences, and build the foundation for a year-long relationship. And most marketers relied too heavily on discounts.

Using discounting alone to drive customer purchases is not a strategy. It's an addiction. The result is a downward cycle: The only compelling reason for a consumer to visit the company's store or website is to get another discount "fix." The retailer becomes more and more dependent on discounts. The low-loyalty, low-information cycle deepens... until someone else offers a better discount!


For too many consumers, the beginning of the holiday season began with too many hassles and disappointing experiences.

Case in point: I am a long-time customer of Sheplers, the iconic cowboy outfitter. I called the company last weekend to order some shirts. While the recorded auto attendant was folksy and appealing -- "We're just as busy as cows at a salt-lick" -- the reps were curt, transactional, and could not answer the simplest questions.

The mindset: "Get 'em in, get 'em out!" What a lost opportunity.

Here are 7 questions to help marketers move beyond the purely transactional "card-swipe encounter" this holiday shopping season.


Don't get distracted by how many times you were able to take an order this year compared to a year ago. Move past the "knee-jerk discount" business model. Start by asking your team:

Question# 1: How much information were we able to gather about our brand new customers? Can we connect a specific buyer to a specific purchase? Will we be able to send relevant, personalized communications to this new customer based on capturing their preferences and interests?

Question# 2: How many of the people we sold to recently were repeat customers? How do we know? How could we increase that percentage?

Question# 3: Did we generate referrals of friends and family members? How many? What would make it easier for consumers to use social media channels to tell people in their "circle" about their buying experience with us?


Ask each customer to respond to a few very brief questions so you can provide them with ongoing value, as defined by their individual needs/interests. Many will be happy to respond! Let the others disengage instantly if they choose. Your questions should cover these four key points.

Point # 1: Would they like to receive additional information, useful tips, or promotions regarding the product(s) they just bought? (Start with this simple question. It's easy to say "yes" to.)

Point # 2: Are there other products in the store/catalog/website about which they would like to receive information? (If you don't ask, you'll never know!)

Point # 3: Is there any friend or family member they would like to send this information to? (Measure the number of referrals this question generates!)

Point # 4: Can we keep in touch? (As a result of offering value, you have earned the right to request the consumer's email address!)


How many more engaged current and future customers could you generate now and in the months to come... just by asking these questions?

Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.

Ernan was recently inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame.

Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

2010-12-08-ernan.jpgErnan was named to "B to B's Who's Who" as one of the "100 most influential people" in Business Marketing by Crain's B to B Magazine.

His fourth and latest book on marketing best practices is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay.

Ernan is also the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing" and author of "Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales."