Sales – how to do them properly

KBB retail consultant Paul da Silva considers the thorny issue of ‘sales’, what the law says about running them and how independent retailers could do them better and make their special offers more appealing to customers

People are a lot more informed these days and there is a definite mistrust of ‘sales’ in the home-improvement market. The never-ending sale you often see at sofa retailers is a regular topic of discussion when I tell people I work as a consultant in this sector.

When I started in sales with MFI in the mid-Nineties, it was simple. The year started with the January Sale, which was then extended into February, then offers in March. Then the April Sale, extended into May, offers in June, and so on. 

But what about the legalities of such sales? I remember branch management being paranoid about a visit from Trading Standards, who were threatening fines of £1,000 per ticket for every incorrect piece of point-of-sale.

Now I see trade companies advertising a sale as standard in October with no price establishment periods being set. Or even if they are, they are very difficult to prove or disprove. 

And what about the customer – what do they actually want? Transparency is probably the number-one answer when I speak to retail customers.

I spend some of my free time reading the comments of social media sites where people are sharing their shopping experiences and “smoke and mirrors” is a phrase I see used a lot when sales tactics are discussed in the home-improvement industry. 

So, if you, as an independent KBB retailer, wanted to run a ‘sale’ effectively, how would you best do it?

First, where possible, everything should be individually priced. It doesn’t have to be a ticket on every door, but it could be a sheet on the display showing how the main price is made up.

When I walk into a supermarket and I see bottles of water with a sign saying, ‘Spring water – was £2, now £1 – 50% OFF’, I know exactly what the price was, what it is now, and what my saving is. If I walked into a car dealership with signs everywhere saying 50% off, but no prices, I would be suspicious.

It is no different in the KBB world. It’s no good telling me ‘50% OFF’ unless I know which product it’s off, what the price was, and what I am saving. But if a sign says a Neff oven should be £999, but is now £499, because there is 50% off, I will feel better about the situation.

I understand the dangers of itemised pricing and that fewer and fewer home-improvement companies are handing out line-by-line quotations for fear of being undercut by a competitor or online seller, but can we really then be surprised when the customer calls our ethics into question?

But if there is enough work done in the showroom, I still think a customer will not ask to see a fully exhaustive list of products. Do Mr and Mrs X really want to know how much a sink waste costs? But what they do want to know is whether the sale is genuine and they aren’t being tricked.

So what advice would I give? Well, make sure your best deals are highlighted to the customer in the showroom. This could mean feature posters in the window, stands inside the door and POS around the displays. But be specific. Spell out what the price was, what it is now, and how much the customer will be saving.

I would always use the colour red to highlight sale items. I recently did some work that indicated that a lot of retailers are moving away from red to more autumnal or corporate colours, but red to me always shouts SALE. Red catches the eye and has been doing so for decades.

But 50% isn’t the only phrase that catches the eye. FREE also works very well – and this may be the case especially for independent showrooms as opposed to multiples. 

Why not offer a FREE dishwasher, FREE tap or FREE cutlery tray? All work well in a showroom window. And giving away a product for free, rather than taking 50% off the complete project price, normally works a lot better for the retailer’s bottom line.

The customer wants transparency and trust, so let’s make sure they get it.

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