Use Coupons to Lure Last-Minute Buyers Woo penny-pinching consumers and overcome slow sales with a great coupon offer.

By Kim T. Gordon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Are you looking for a quick way to increase last-minute holiday sales? Coupons are back in a big way thanks to the recession and are a hit with virtually all demographics. Plus, coupon promotions are fast and easy to implement.

A large percentage of consumers intend to spend less this holiday season, and many are delaying purchases. But since coupons carry an expiration date, they provide the money-saving incentive to draw customers plus the urgency to buy right away. And coupon promotions are equally attractive to upper and lower-income households, making them a speedy, smart way to increase holiday sales.

Online Coupons Spur Immediate Action
Whether consumers buy in stores or online, they're researching and shopping on the internet before making a purchase. So it's no surprise that the convenience of online coupons make them popular with customers. In fact, as many as 62 percent of adults look for coupons for online stores before making a purchase, according to a Benchmark Survey on Consumer Coupon Behavior by Harris Interactive for RetailMeNot, a coupon website.

  • Send coupons by e-mail: Customers who've registered to receive your e-mails are your best prospects. Reward them--and win immediate sales--by e-mailing coupons for online and off-line savings. Follow the example of major retailers, such as the popular women's clothing chain bebe, which headlined a recent e-mail promotion, "Enjoy a special 25% offer from bebe to share with friends and family; four days only, Shop Now."

    If you sell at traditional retail stores as well as online, invite customers to "Present this e-mail at time of purchase, or use online coupon code x." Include a link to help them "find a store near you," or "start shopping right away."
  • Offer savings on your main web page: With consumers scrutinizing every purchase, they're visiting more websites and spending less time per page than ever before. That means your main page has to grab and hold them with a strong coupon offer. Feature your offer prominently or add a new entry page with your coupon.

    Integrate your coupon promotion with your overall campaign by using your other marketing tactics to drive shoppers to your website in order to take advantage of your offer. Just look at the way Healthy Choice, a ConAgra Foods brand, is using TV commercials featuring actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus to send cost-conscious consumers to its website, , to print out $1 and $2 savings coupons.
  • Post on coupon sites: Thirty-five percent of all online adults visit coupon websites at least occasionally, according to the Harris Interactive survey. These sites are growing in popularity, and while some charge for posting coupons, others are free. Most allow customers to search for savings by product category, and a few, including and , help shoppers find locally available coupons. If you want to reach dedicated coupon users, evaluate the top coupon sites and test market your offers at several.

And keep in mind, it's not too late to use off-line tactics to stimulate sales. Valpak, the nation's largest marriage-mail provider, can mail your coupon along with others in its familiar blue envelope to households in targeted zip codes. Or you can direct-mail your own coupon to customers in a narrow geographic market area, such as a 10-mile radius surrounding your retail store.

Newspaper ads--the tried and true holiday standby for many retailers--continue to perform when they carry the right coupon offer and the paper's readership closely matches the advertiser's target audience. And a coupon distributed to customers in your retail store can bring even last-minute shoppers back if the coupon remains valid until Christmas. No matter how you distribute them, you can be sure customers will respond to the savings and convenience of coupons.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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