Discounting Best Practices and Biggest Blunders

Lulu's Holiday Discounting Best Practices

Ecommerce is the fastest-growing part of our global economy. If you buy stuff online, you might have five to ten frequently visited favorite stores where you understand navigation, can easily use the cart, know discounting patterns, and maybe you’re even raking in loyalty rewards or points for future purchases. It’s a welcome challenge to get the lowest price possible (nods head and whispers under my breath “heck yeah, cha-ching!”).

My online buying behavior heavily depends on discounts. For example, if I needed to buy a pair of shoes during the holiday season, you bet I’ll wait until Cyber Monday to take advantage of what’s likely the year’s deepest discount. End-of-season clean-out sale? I’m there! Sometimes I’ll even buy something just because it’s a good deal. 

The availability of a coupon can be blamed for a splurge. Can you relate?

But as a merchant—or bookseller in your case—you are on the other side of this relationship. How you set discounts can condition your buyers and have a major impact on your bottom line and your overall brand. In advance of the holidays, I want to take a closer look at some discounting best practices (and common mistakes) that can help you decide the discounting relationship you want to establish with your readers.

Discounting Basics

There are a variety of ways to incentivize buying behavior and spark sales. Let’s take a look at the most commonly used methods for ecommerce:

  • Coupons – A voucher entitling a consumer to a discount. These are typically in the form of a percentage or dollar amount off. 
  • Bundling – Offering discounts contingent upon buying two or more products at once. With bundling, buying the products together is less expensive than buying them separately. 
  • Free Shipping – This means that there is no charge for shipping during checkout. Typically shipping costs are absorbed by the merchant with this discount.
  • Bulk Buying – An incentive offered for buying more than one of the same product. For example: “Buy 5 books and save 15% at checkout!”

Discounting gives the perception of value. The pandemic and slow economic regrowth have amplified the desire to be efficient and wise with shopping in-store and online. With inventory shortages, fulfillment chain breakdown, and lifestyle shifts to working from home (hello athleisure-wear trend!) the modern online shopper is even more agile, smart, and voraciously looking for value.

At the same time, your brand needs loyalists, reviews, a trusted buying experience, and longevity. Before we dive into some best practices, let’s look at common mistakes. 

Common Mistakes

For this section, I went to my favorite source—friends and coworkers who also run small businesses. They always have plenty of stories to tell of things gone wrong during their learning curve. Here’s what didn’t work:

  1. Offering Complex Discount Promotions. An example is offering an intricate bundling option like “Buy any 3 quantities of Product A, B, C or D and get a 15% discount.” This takes too much time and is complicated for the customer to understand. Complicating the customer experience potentially kills conversions on the site. The lesson here is if using bundling, keep the customer experience clean and effortless.
  2. Giving Away too Much, too Soon. Offering heavy discounts without the proper strategy was a mistake that hurt the profit margin and may have affected the overall brand. Stephanie Taylor Christensen suggests that every ecommerce marketer should at least answer these questions:
    1. Will the discount attract the customers we really want?
    2. What impact will the deep discounts have on my brand? 
    3. Do you have a plan for how to demonstrate value once the discount ends? 
    4. Can you control the message (and who sees it)?
    5. Have you optimized the price and value?
  3. Discounting Without Taking Into Account the Metrics and Tracking. There are a ton of tools to use when determining how to measure the effectiveness of discounting. These are often built into the ecommerce platform (Shopify, WooCommerce, etc…) but if you don’t use them there’s not a surefire way to know if the strategy was effective or not.

Your Book, Your Way

Sell books on your website with Lulu Direct.

Sell Your Book,
Your Way

Sell books on your own
website with Lulu Direct.

Best Practices

There is a ton of advice on the internet about how to discount. Books can be tricky since their sales may or may not be repetitive, followed up by a sequel, or timely and tailored to a certain audience or event. Here we talk about why selecting your top seller is the product to discount. 

Remember too that when it comes to selling books YOU are the brand, not your product. Your returning customers probably aren’t coming back to buy additional copies of a book they already own. Instead, they’re looking for other books and products from your brand after your book fostered some brand loyalty in them!

If it’s non-fiction, buyers want to know why you’re an expert in that particular subject. For fiction, a glimpse of the creator can bring a connection to the reader. 

Other best practices when planning discounts:

  1. Have a Strategy and Make it Measurable. Understanding your audience and its buyers are key. Build your strategy around that. Then define what metrics you’re using. Research and take advantage of technology tools available with your platform. 
  2. Know Your Margins. So obviously if you’re a great writer, math might not be your strong point, but that’s not an excuse to overlook it as a merchant. Make sure you aren’t being too generous with discounts in a costly way. Understand the cost of goods, shipping, and fulfillment as well as the ramifications of free shipping and absorbing shipping costs, especially if you are selling globally and shipping surcharges might apply.
  3. Use Discounts to Strengthen the Brand. This can be done by offering discounts in a way that encourages and rewards customer loyalty. For example, customers who have been with your brand for two years can get a discount on their two-year anniversary. Customers who have purchased a certain number of books can get a reward discount on their next purchase. But remember, keep it simple.

Direct To Consumer Tools You Can Use

Lulu Direct is a tool you can use to fulfill books sold directly from your website via the Lulu print-on-demand network. With Lulu Direct, we have several tricks up our sleeve that will set you apart from others with a discounting strategy and brand building. Here are my favorite two:

  • White Labeling: When setting up book fulfillment with Lulu Direct, you can white label the shipping inserts. The insert is an opportunity to build brand loyalty with a discount. Perhaps you can include a code there for their next purchase, a code to give to a friend, or an invitation to be part of the book club for your next book.
  • Multiple Book Options: The hands-off fulfillment process Lulu Direct provides allows you to get creative with different versions of the same book. Perhaps you want to offer a limited-time second cover option for a new book launch, or a special hardcover version for family and friends. With print-on-demand, you can easily create more than one version without the investment of inventory. Having a variety of versions available at different price points provides insights into customer buying habits and popular price points.
  • Multi-Address Shipping: Upload a preformatted CSV file with your customer and shipping information to place multiple orders at once. Perfect for fulfilling a holiday presale.

Discounts are best when used sparingly. There’s a fine line between enticing new purchases and conditioning customers to always use them on your site, which can tank your brand and the pursuit of value. Be calculated with your strategy. You may experience a bit of trial and error and learn valuable lessons along the way, it’ll be worth it.

Sarah G, Ecommerce Marketing Manager

Sarah is the Ecommerce Marketing Manager at Lulu. Her primary role is to educate and help those who would benefit from our direct-to-consumer tools. Sarah is passionate about helping authors and publishers find ways to connect with their audience. In previous roles, she led public relations campaigns for over 75 authors and coached many more in preparation for their book launches. When not in the office, you’ll likely find her in the bleachers at her boys’ baseball games or cheering on the UGA Bulldogs.

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