A Deal They Can't Refuse

Encourage bidding frenzies with incentives for your buyers.

by Auctiva.com staff writer
- Jun 04, 2008

It takes customers to build and grow a business. But in the world of e-commerce, there's ever-increasing competition to win those customers—and get them to return.

By offering bargains and other enticements, you can attract more attention to your online listings, increase your sell-through rate, and hopefully give buyers a reason to buy from you again and again.

Shipping deals

One of the best ways to get buyers to consider bidding on your auctions is to advertise a deal on shipping. This can take many forms, such as discounted shipping for multiple-item purchase; free shipping for first-time customers; or just free shipping, period.

What shopper can resist complimentary delivery service? As it is, excessive shipping charges are a major gripe of eBay buyers, so offering to cover all or part of this will undoubtedly earn you some fans.

It's also one of the trickiest promotions to pull off without busting your bottom line. Do the math first to make sure you don't end up paying more in shipping than you will on the sale.

International shipping costs can be a killer, so you may decide to limit shipping deals to domestic buyers. If you must cover your profits, factor some additional cost into the price of the item—if it's an auction, make the deal apply only to the Buy It Now option or bids that exceed a stated minimum value. Or just accept the shipping expense as part of the cost of marketing your online business, and hope that your effort to build customer loyalty pays off in the long run.

You can set up shipping discounts in your My eBay Preferences. Buyers will see the message: "Save on shipping." When a buyer purchases more than one item, eBay will automatically calculate the shipping discount and deduct it from the total shipping cost.

Little extras

Do the math to make sure you don't end up paying more in shipping than you will on the sale

Including a free gift with a purchase is a great way to show buyers you appreciate their business. You can make it a surprise by bundling it with the purchase and including a note like: "This is our way of saying thank you." Or advertise it as a bonus to entice shoppers to spend more: "Free gift with $50 purchase."

The key is to make sure the freebie is low-weight and easy to ship. It's also best if the gift is somehow related to the purchased item. If the customer bought a set of luxury bath towels, throw in a loofah or matching washcloth, for example.

Build your customer base while rewarding your current customers by offering referral bonuses in the form of gift cards, coupons or free shipping on their next purchase.

Or dangle a carrot to encourage auction visitors to bid up your asking price. Again, keep it light in weight and relevant. If you're selling a refurbished laptop, maybe you offer to throw in a 2 GB thumb drive if bidding reaches $150.


Consider offering discount coupons to bring customers into your store. Usually—but not always—coupons come with an expiration date. While it's generous to give coupons that are good for an indefinite period of time, it's a good idea to assign your coupons a shelf life because the idea is to bring buyers back sooner rather than later. By the same token, avoid making the window of opportunity so narrow that customers won't be able to act on it.

Customer loyalty programs that offer a reward in return for repeat business can be a good incentive for buyers to come back and spend more money

Electronic coupons are easiest to work with when it comes to online shopping. These might be given to recent customers in the spirit of "Thank you, come again," mass distributed as part of an e-mail newsletter you send to all your existing and potential customers, or sent out as "exclusive" discounts for preferred customers—or those who haven't visited your site in a while.

Loyalty points

Much like the frequent-flyer miles awarded by major airlines, customer loyalty programs that offer a reward in return for repeat business can be a good incentive for buyers to come back and spend more money—so long as the reward has value.

Try offering frequent-buyer points—for example, customers earn one point for every $10 spent. When they accumulate 10 points, they can cash them in for a $10 gift card or apply the discount to their next purchase. Similar to coupons, it's a good idea to put a realistic time limit on loyalty programs, so you don't get strung along indefinitely. Remember, these programs are meant to promote frequent buyers.

And make good on what you promise. Don't make it impossible for customers to redeem points by putting unreasonable or arbitrary restrictions on how they can use them.

Gift-related services

Particularly around the holidays, buyers appreciate additional services such as express shipping, gift wrapping, and sending an item directly to the gift recipient. These don't have to be freebies, necessarily, but they are attractive add-ons for time-strapped gift buyers.

Advertise that you provide these services in your listing description and title (space permitting), your About Me page, or your eBay Store. Or, for 25 cents, eBay will place a gift-box icon next to your listing on the search results page, helping to let buyers know you offer these extras. If you're looking to boost your holiday sales, or if your products lend themselves to anytime gift-giving, the gift icon might be a worthwhile upgrade.

Sometimes it's the little things that bring customers in—and keep them coming back. Used wisely, buyer incentives can do wonders to help you build and grow your online business.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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