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5 Buying Incentives to Boost Your Sales

Offering coupons and freebies like free shipping can entice shoppers to buy from you, again and again.

We all love getting a little something extra when we shop. Just think of all the times you’ve been lured into a store for the simple reason of getting something for free with your purchase, or of getting something at a discounted price.

Retail stores don’t offer these just to be nice. They offer these incentives because they are highly effective tools to get shoppers into their stores—and they can be very useful for you, as an online seller.

Below are five tried and true buying incentives that you can try to boost your sales, and keep buyers coming back.

Buying incentive No. 1: Loyalty programs

Valerie Reddemann, a marketing consultant and longtime e-commerce merchant, has seen membership-based loyalty programs work wonders for driving repeat business. Shoppers appreciate the exclusivity of “club member only” offers, and they like knowing they will save money each time they buy from you, Reddeman reports.

“When people pay for [a membership], they feel invested. We have found that customers are more loyal and interested in enjoying the full value of their membership,” she says.

However, if you offer a loyalty program, be sure to state your rules and conditions clearly, and in simple language, on your site or in your listings, so shoppers know exactly what they can expect from the program, Reddeman recommends.

Terms should let shoppers know how long their membership will last, the cost and what they’ll be entitled to should they participate. As e-commerce marketing expert Dennis L. Prince tells us, clearly stating terms and answering customer questions before they ask will improve buyers’ shopping experiences and make them more likely to buy from you, as they’ll see that you’re a serious seller who’s taken the time to be transparent in your dealings.

Buying incentive No. 2: Free gifts

Products that will help your item work properly—or better—are good freebies to include in your shipments

eBay seller Rebecca Miller has included free gifts with plenty of orders she’s mailed out in her 12-year selling career. She notes that providing shoppers with thoughtful, unexpected extras will not only make them happy, it’ll make them more likely to think of you the next time they need to buy.

“Even a small, inexpensive freebie can have a big impact,” she notes.

She once sold Bratz dolls and recalls that as she was out doing her everyday shopping, she found a pack of Bratz lip balm at one of the local dollar stores. She quickly snatched it up and included some of the lip balms with the dolls she sold.

“The buyer was super grateful for the freebie, and it just cost me a dollar,” she notes, adding that she received great feedback on the transaction.

So, as you’re out shopping, keep an eye out at your local dollar stores and clearance racks for items that would complement the products you sell. Just make sure they’re made of quality materials so your buyer will see them as a treat, not a throwaway. And when you’re looking for complementary items, don’t limit yourself to those that feature the same characters or brands as your items. Products that will help your item work properly—or better—are other good freebies to include in your shipments. For instance, if you sell an item that requires batteries, throw some in, or add a complementary screwdriver if your product requires some assembly.

Buying incentive No. 3: Free shipping

Free shipping has become a major draw for buyers as well. During the holidays, that was easy to see. Thousands of retailers were covering shipping costs for their buyers, and even throughout the year, as a way to entice shoppers to buy from them, and not a competitor.

According to researcher comScore, retailers that offered free shipping saw a 23 percent increase in traffic in May 2011. On the flip side, 78 percent of shoppers report that shipping costs “discouraged” them from buying online, according to

“I think free shipping is what encourages a customer to shop online, rather than in a store,” says Simon Jobman, Web manager of “If you can get the same item for the same price (or usually lower) online, and you don’t have to pay shipping, then why drive to the store?”

He adds that shoppers have come to expect free shipping, and that charging for shipping might result in a missed sale for merchants.

We know that offering free shipping can be costly. But there are ways you can offset that cost. You could slightly increase the price of your product to cover part of the shipping cost. We say part, because you always want to offer your items at a competitive price. Otherwise, shoppers will find it more affordably elsewhere. To determine a fair price, see what other merchants are charging for similar products.

And don’t be afraid to offer expedited shipping options as well. This gives buyers the option of paying for shipping if they want to receive products faster—and it allows you to be the flexible seller who gives buyers options, and could mean you don’t have to cover costs.

Buying incentive No. 4: Free gift wrapping

Keep wrapping paper in stock that can be used for multiple occasions for those customers making last-minute gift purchases

Gift wrapping might also be the add-on that sets your business apart from others and sways shoppers to buy from you—and not just during the holiday season.

“There are tons of opportunities for gift giving year round—birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, anniversaries, graduations, etc.—so why not offer free gift wrapping?” Miller notes.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to keep a few wrapping paper options on hand in case one of your customers wants to take advantage of the free gift wrapping service you’re offering. Remember that shoppers don’t always plan ahead. In fact, often times they’re making last-minute purchases for that special someone’s special day, with just days to spare. So make sure some of the wrapping paper you keep in stock can be used for multiple occasions.

You may want to go a step further and let shoppers know you’ll ship directly to their gift recipient so they won’t have to worry about the item arriving on time.

Buying incentive No. 5: Coupons and limited-time offers

Coupons are another great incentive for shoppers. Again, shoppers love saving money. You can offer these by putting a special promo code on your site, by tweeting or Facebooking the coupon or code, and by including coupons in the orders you send out to buyers who have already done business with you.

It’s a nice way to thank buyers and encourage them to drop by again, Miller notes. Coupons have become very popular in recent years. In fact, according to app search engine Chomp, mobile searches for “discount” increased about 3,000 percent on Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving and historically one of the busiest online shopping days of the year.

But be sure to offer your coupon for a limited time. “This will encourage people take a second look at what you have for sale before it’s too late,” notes eBay seller Miriam Otto.

What buyer incentives have you used that worked? Tell us in the comments, below.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • Dogged4life

    Is shipping really free? Obviously sellers are going to add part, if not all of the shipping fees into the item’s actual cost, right? After all, it’s all about profit. Unless you have a really big profit margin, why would I try to “fool” somebody into thinking they are actually getting it shipped for free. Plus you really need to know the exact actual shipping cost to a specific location, to maintain a profit margin. I do offer free shipping on limited items, but only if it’s flat rate, or less than a pound in weight. The word “logic” comes to mind when I buy free shipped items! Anything “free” is always an eye catcher though!

  • Jean_paul_satire

     Charging for shipping can be better as you can offer a discount for multiple purchases to encourage bulk buys.

  • Jeff_again

    Free shipping is a farce and actually discriminatory.  What might seem like a deal to someone buying from me (in MD) that lives on the west coast gets turned on its head when the customer is right next door (say in PA).  I’ve actually avoided buying tires for my bicycle from an online seller that has flat rate shipping.  He is in NY and I expect to benefit from the proximity, not subsidize his shipping to customers farther away.  Someone else talked about discounts for multiple items in a sale and I agree.  If everything shipped “Free” has its shipping cost built into it, you’re getting suckered when you buy multiple items. 

  • Cecilsimpson1

    Free shipping doesn’t work unless you’re a BIG box retail store. I sell Laserdiscs, I charge $2.99 for the laserdisc and $3.00 for shipping. Total cost-$5.99. If I sell a laserdisc at $5.99 with free shipping, NOBODY buys them because all they see is the initial bid of $5.99 and they all want cheaper prices. Not Many buyers factor in the “Total” cost, free shipping vs a lower start bid with shipping.
    So, the free shipping does NOT help

  • Booksvinyl

    Free shipping is a con the only ones to make money out of it is ebay in there fees, it cuts down on your profit margin.
    Let the buyer see the post and packing charges

  • Ptgnunn

    I feel people like seeing a lower price and they seem willing to pay for shipping.  They know it is part of the cost of ordering online.  I started doing more free shipping because Ebay encouraged it.  I had to up the price to included the shipping.  I now have taken those same products and changed price and added shipping and they sell.

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