Sales Promotion

Making sure your sales promotion isn’t derailed by the unexpected

Even the best laid plans can be derailed by the unexpected. The new generation of sales and promotion management tools offer a far higher degree of flexibility than was possible even ten years ago. Rather than be lumbered with a non-performing offer, this new generation helps retailers respond to changes in circumstance and make sure that they make the most of every opportunity.

When asked by a journalist what was most likely to force his government to change course, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is said to have gazed solemnly into the middle distance and replied sadly “Events, dear boy, events”.

As the political shenanigans of the last few months have shown all around the world, no matter how water-tight you think a strategy is, there’s always a decent chance that your plans could be laid low by something completely out of the blue. 

It is as true for the world of retail as it is for the world of politics. You research relevant markets, you consult and develop a strategy over a period of weeks or months and then the day before you go live, a completely unrelated event in a seemingly unconnected sector means that you have to rethink the whole thing. You may need to work out a way to hold the stock or slash prices and accept that you are going to make a loss.

The good news, for those of us in retail at least, is that it is now far easier to respond efficiently and effectively to changing events.

With the right system in place, you can now be exceptionally light on your feet. You can finesse messages as circumstances change, and put promotions in place and respond to competitor activity at short notice.

Technology: quicker than events?

The simple reason for this is that the technology has evolved both for the business and for the consumer.

As customers, most of us now have smartphones, which means that shop and promotional information can now be targeted at specific demographics or locations at short notice.

For retailers, it’s no longer a case of printing a leaflet and dropping a copy through every local door in the neighbourhood on the off chance that someone inside could be your target audience.

Naturally, there are all sorts of sophisticated, high-end, conceptual developments being put in place for retailers that have the time and the resource to investigate and, it could be suggested, take a risk on, but for smaller operations this boils down to a simple thing: it’s no longer necessary to plan a promotion so far in advance.

Luck: where opportunity meets preparation

Printing and distributing leaflets used to cause a major time lag between an agreed sales promotion and your promotion being implemented. Today, with the right preparation, you can get your message out within seconds and you can even finesse your promotions according to changing weather reports.

This may sound like it could involve a lot of work, but if your sales promotion communications are timely and relevant, then your consumers are more likely to pay attention. And if they’re paying attention, they are more likely to take advantage of them.

Equally, if you can show your suppliers that you are nimble enough to help them when they have a problem (such as finding themselves with excess stock), you may find that they are willing to go the extra mile for you if you ever hit a problem.

The ability to implement nimble promotions also stems from the increased ability to analyse data effectively and spot opportunities and threats. The current generation of promotional systems enables retailers to create and interrogate new data sets with very little fuss.

If he’d had these tools at his disposal, and if he’d been lucky enough to be working in retail rather than politics, Macmillan’s quote might have been a bit less mournful.