Using eCommerce platforms for promotions: What they can and cannot do

Whether your business should utilise promotional marketing strategies is no longer up for debate. If you’re not giving your customers what they want — and 75% of them expect promotions — they’ll shop elsewhere. 

That’s why you need to ensure the marketing tools you’re using have the features you need to please your customers. And in this blog, we’ll specifically be talking about your eCommerce platform -- the outcomes you can expect to achieve, and where you are going to need to invest in a more sophisticated solution. 

 

1. What an eCommerce platform can do

As part of their native functionality, eCommerce platforms (like Shopify, Magento and BigCommerce) provide some standard promotional marketing capabilities. These platforms work well for small online sellers looking to achieve the basics with promotional campaigns.  

Here’s an overview of the basic tools that are provided via your eCommerce platform for promotional marketing.

  1. Generate unique codes: 

Unique and single-use codes are a linchpin to your promotional marketing strategies. They are critical to being able to personalise promotions, target customers with your offers and prevent code misuse. On top of that, they allow you to align your promotions with business objectives and control your promotional budget. 

  1. Create a range of discount types:

An eCommerce platform will let you create multiple types of discounts like Buy One Get One Free, certain percentages off, or certain pounds off. This means you can provide simple, straightforward discounts to your customers — which is something that 62% of consumers hunt for before completing a purchase, according to a survey by RetailMeNot.

  1. Set up specific validation criteria:

Your eCommerce system comes with its own pre-set validation options that will let you choose different criteria for your promotions. For example, sending birthday promotions and applying date ranges and minimum order amounts to discounts.

Why is this important?

Using targeted validation criteria is a great way to drive your specific, strategic business outcomes. It’s important to point out, though, that eCommerce platforms will only allow you to do this on a very basic level with a limited range of validation options. If you’re looking for ways to implement your promotional marketing campaigns in a more creative and targeted way, investing in a tool like a promotion engine may help — more on that later! 

  1. Email your promotions: 

Email marketing campaigns are the most common format that eCommerce platforms will let you use to deliver the different types of promotions that we’ve talked about. So, if you’re simply looking to focus your promotional strategy on email marketing -- as about 80% of businesses do -- then an eCommerce system is a great shout for you. 

eCommerce platforms will also give you the option to pre-set your emails based on different criteria, which partners well with their pre-set validation options.

These systems are most valuable if you’re using “old school” promotion strategies. They can provide you with basic tools to help you organise and track online sales, especially through email marketing, and are particularly suitable for small online sellers.

 

Where you will need more advanced tools

If you want to go above and beyond the basics, you need to either develop an in-house tool or invest in dedicated promotional marketing software -- generally known as a ‘promotions engine’. 

Not all in-house tools or promotions engines will be able to deliver every possible outcome, but if you’re looking for more advanced promotional marketing strategies, you’ll need to look beyond your eCommerce platform.

There are three considerably beneficial outcomes that upgrading your promotional marketing approach with these advanced tools will bring: sophisticated validation criteria, more delivery options and analytics. We’ll look into each of these in more detail. 

Advanced validation criteria:

A shortcoming of eCommerce platforms is their inability to allow you to really get creative with validation criteria -- which is imperative if you want to tie promotions to specific outcomes. 

Here are some advanced validation options and hyper-specific promotions that can be provided by your in-house tool or chosen promotions engine:

  1. Multi-stage validation -- where the customer has to do or buy more than one thing to unlock a code. For example, if they buy a certain product (you may be wanting to push distressed stock), they can unlock a discount code. 

  2. Discounts that change in value based on completing multiple tasks. 

  3. Gamifying this multi-stage process with challenges and mystery offers, for example. You can also include points-based challenges (perhaps customer leaderboards) to engage loyal customers and entice new ones.

Why is this important?

Arguably, the most important benefit of making the most of advanced validation options is in aligning promotional strategies with your business outcomes. A great example of this is using validation criteria to give a boost to slower moving areas of your business. 

Let’s look at examples of how you can do this within the travel or retail industry:

Example 1: A hotel chain can use hyper-specific offers at an agreed set of discounts. Validation options mean the chain can vary the promotions for each individual hotel depending on their capacity on certain dates.

Example 2: A retailer can set validation criteria on a promotion requiring the customer to purchase a certain product (including distressed stock that needs to be moved) in order for them to get a discount for a more valuable product. 

Having access to advanced validation criteria is a top way to provide customers with unique discounts, improving the engagement and happiness of your customers — and this means increased customer loyalty. This is worth chasing, with 58.7% of internet users believing that earning rewards is one of the most valued aspects of shopping.

Knowing what features to look for in a promotions engine is essential before you invest. After all, with the many solutions available, it’s about finding the right fit for your business needs. 

promo codes strategy

 

Multiple delivery options:

If you want to maximise on your delivery of promotions, then you’ll need to invest in a more advanced solution than an eCommerce platform. There are two more technically complicated delivery possibilities that are especially effective in drawing customers to using your promotions:

  1. On-site promotions:

With capabilities to display your discounts and offers directly on your website, your promotions engine or in-house tool is much more than just a code generator -- just how it should be. It’s also essential to attract your customers at the right time. 

More sophisticated tools than eCommerce platforms will allow you to display your promotions either by default or after a user has completed a certain number of on-site actions. 

The assistance of an advanced platform is critical in executing the perfect timing of when your customer is connected with the offer. A promotions engine is able to integrate with your site to help you intelligently apply your promotions. This is just one of the many ways you can optimise your online store — helping you improve your customers’ experience. 

  1. Third-party promotions:

Third-parties (e.g. affiliate channels) are brilliant in growing your brand’s awareness. Promotions can play an important role here when partnered with advanced tools.

eCommerce platforms fall short because they use generic codes, which are at risk of abuse. You need a way to allow third parties to generate unique codes on demand, while still keeping you in control of the overall process and giving you better flexibility.

Why is this important?

Third-party opportunities delivered by a promotions engine solution delivers more agility in your marketing planning, full control over promotional limits and access to a wider network of promotional marketing. This brings you distribution deals and stronger partnerships.

Tracking and analytics:

An eCommerce platform won’t give you dedicated analytics regarding your marketing campaigns, which is important if your campaigns are more complicated. A promotions engine assists you in this way with its own dedicated reporting dashboards and easy-to-use A/B testing capability.

Tracking individual codes and aligning them with specific customers and actions is a game-changer for deploying the best promotional marketing strategies. When you analyse the outcomes and success of your discounts, your brand can take much more proactive steps to improve outcomes -- ones you know for a fact will work. 

 

How to pick the right tool or build it yourself

If you’re going to use an eCommerce platform for your more basic marketing needs, remember to set your expectations accordingly. The real trouble comes when you try to execute a complex campaign on a tool that wasn’t designed to do so. 

Having access to hyper-specific validation options, multiple code deliveries and in-built analytics suites is what really defines in-house tools and promotions engines. 

There’s significant value in choosing more sophisticated solutions for your promotional marketing strategies. This includes the creative and flexible alignment of your promotions with business outcomes -- the main reason for engaging in promotional marketing. 

The more complicated question is whether to buy or build a tool -- a critical decision. To better understand the market, read our guide — Do You Need a Promotions Engine — and get the help you need to make the right decision for your business. 

do you need a promo engine cta

Topics: retail promotion strategies

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