Offering incentives in small business can be a bit of a challenge, but it can also benefit you in terms of customer relations, customer retention, and of course sales.  However, it can be risky to base all of your incentives on price cuts, so consider some alternatives when creating them.

  • Tokens/Tickets/Vouchers  – One cupcake shop in Columbia, South Carolina created a special incentive to attract customers on last fall’s Small Business Saturday movement.  For every dozen cupcakes purchased at regular price, the customer would receive four tokens, one each good for a free cupcake.  To sweeten the deal (pun intended), the owner allowed the tokens to be redeemed right then and there if the customer wanted.  This was a brilliant idea, because most businesses, big and small, make customers wait until a future visit to redeem such an incentive, and often with an expiration date that creeps up sooner rather than later.  Using tokens, tickets, or vouchers and rewarding your customers on the spot shows your appreciation for their patronage.
  • Loyalty Programs – A great deal of businesses have some form of a loyalty program in place for frequent shoppers, but take this idea to the next level by offering your customers something really special.  For example, the children’s clothing giant, Carters, gives each customer a card that gets a stamp for every $20 spent.  After 5 stamps, a 10% discount is applied to the next purchase.  This is pretty standard, but you can use this idea to your advantage.  Instead of a discount, you could offer a special shopping day where he or she would have exclusive access to new products before they’re made available to the general public.
  • Individualized Product or Service – Based on a customer’s purchase history, you could offer a product/service that he or she would be particularly interested in.  For example, say a customer regularly buys a certain type of hair product from your cosmetics business. Because you know what this person wants and needs, you could offer a free consultation for a new hairstyle, color, or shampoo and conditioning treatment.  Providing individualized service to your customers improves relationships and gives them more reasons to come back.
  • Free Gift With Purchase – This really works well when you can purchase items at wholesale that have a higher perceived value.  Additionally, you can promote a higher-priced item by offering a free gift with it.  For example, select a product or service that you want to interest your customers with; if they buy it, they could also get a free custom-printed t-shirt designed by a local artist, or a free canvas tote bag with your logo printed across the front.  The benefits here are two-fold: the higher price you can charge for the item will help offset the cost of your free gift, and you are also advertising your brand by distributing your merchandise to your customers.

By thinking outside the box, there are endless possibilities to the incentives that one could offer.  What are some of your ideas for non-price related incentives?  Please share them in the comments section below!