Responsive sales promotion systems that let you adapt to the changing market
The success or failure of a promotion can hinge on the tiniest of factors that sometimes could not have been planned for. When an unexpected factor came into play and derailed a sales promotion in the past, retailers mostly had to chalk it up to experience: systems were too restrictive to be able to react. The current generation of promotional systems are far more responsive however, letting you take advantage of a situation, rather than be a victim of circumstance.
The not-so-good old days of sales promotions
A few years ago, as a retailer, there was very little you could do when your finely developed plans went awry because of circumstances out of your control. It could be something completely out of the blue such as an election being called that bumped the cookery show off the TV schedules meaning that you were left holding too much stock of an obscure root vegetable. Equally, your sales promotion could be derailed as a result of something more prosaic like the sun deciding not to shine on a bank holiday weekend. The problem was once prices and forecasts had been agreed, there was little you could do to change a promotion.
Whether you were working for a large or a small retailer, when a sales promotion failed to perform, the stress was comparable.
The walk of shame
If you were working for a big retailer, you’d have to do the walk of shame into your bosses’ office and hope that they could still see the original plan’s merit even if their wastage or warehouse holding stats were about to go through the roof.
If you were a smaller organisation, you’d have a sleepless night trying to work out how you were going to sustain your commitments to your suppliers, what would happen to a massively overstocked stock cupboard? Or who you could call to do a reciprocal deal?
A missed opportunity
Ten or even five years ago, once a sales promotion was in motion, you were pretty much committed. If you worked in the pork-pie, salads and dips department of a national supermarket for example, you had to submit your bank holiday sales promotion plans to suppliers at least four weeks in advance, well before there were any meaningful weather reports available that would tell you if the weather was set to be fair or not.
This made life particularly entertaining in the picnic food department, but the principle was the same whether you were selling food or white goods.
You couldn’t change the sales promotion even if you wanted to: flash-pack packaging had been generated, leaflets had been distributed and point of sale material had been printed and sent out to stores. Sales promotions walked a tightrope between empty shelves if the sun came out and massive wastage if it rained. One year in five you’d do exceptionally well, one year you’d do terribly and the other three would be uninspiring. What broke your heart were the missed opportunities.
The digital age flexibility of sales promotions
The current generation of sales promotion management systems have distinct advantages over their predecessors however. They offer a level of flexibility that can help you change strategy during a promotion so that you can respond to events and evolve your strategy accordingly.
Promotional material is no longer confined to a leaflet that drops through the door with the local paper. Now that it’s emailed out and published on a website, you can keep making changes right up until the moment it’s published, rather than being constrained by publishing deadlines.
This means that not only are you more likely to have your shelves stocked with the items your customers actually want and when they actually want them, you might also be able to enhance your relationship with your suppliers, which could help you the next time those tricky events rear their heads.
Equally, if you have the systems in place, you might be able to help out a supplier when something’s gone wrong at their end, again enhancing your relationship and helping your organisation and its customers take advantage of sales opportunities.
Become like water my friend!
As Bruce Lee once said, “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. Become like water my friend”. Sales promotions should follow this same philosophy with a changeable and adaptable approach.
In many ways, how you deal with sales promotions when events threaten to swamp them is part of what makes a retailer’s life interesting. Events are a fact of life and hopefully more often than not you are either on the right side of them or they simply pass you by, but you can give yourself better odds by having responsive systems in place.
Being able keep your sales promotions on track and respond effectively and flexibly to events is likely to make your activity more sucessful. This in turn will increase the resilience of your business and potentially lead to new opportunities. The sun will shine or the rain will fall whether we like it or not, it’s how we deal with the unexpected that will make our businesses thrive.