The Biggest Deals of the Year: How Retail Sales Events Have Grown into Loyalty Drivers

Consumers have no reason to pay full price for almost anything these days. Shoppers have gotten smarter about pricing strategies; they also have an arsenal of tools and options at their disposal for saving big on almost any purchase — from loyalty programs to partner marketing, to cash back incentives, bundle deals, discounts and price-watching intelligence from sites like CamelCamelCamel.

This shift has had a seismic impact on how and when consumers shop. The retail industry is adapting to meet those behavioral changes by delivering more “big sale” moments throughout the year to incentivize shoppers into action.

Now, propelled by inflation and looming economic concerns, consumers are even more willing to go above and beyond to find a great deal. An ICSC study found that 43% of holiday shoppers in 2022 prioritized pricing and promotions — a 10% increase over the previous year. More than half said they spent significantly more time seeking out deals and discounts than they had in years prior.

In an environment where shoppers are extra-motivated to find deals year-round, why limit big discounts and incentives to traditional shopping holidays like Black Friday, Memorial Day and President’s Day?


The Rise of the Retail Sales Event

Annual holiday events are still important, but the industry has recognized that bespoke, manufactured sales events can be more appealing to shoppers. Retail sales events can present a profitable opportunity for retailers, and they are spreading like wildfire, offering consumers enticing opportunities to save on their favorite brands at multiple points throughout the year.

Amazon Prime Day takes the majority of “event-driven” sales — and it’s still growing. In 2022, Prime Day sales reached approximately $12 billion and grew nearly 12% from the year before. Events like Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale, Macy’s Semi-Annual Sale  and Rakuten’s Big Give Week are all great opportunities for shoppers to save in different ways — whether it comes in the form of steep discounts, heightened cash back rates, BOGO offers or more.

As shoppers get smarter and savvier, retail sales events continue to emerge and grow. We’ve even seen expansion from within existing sales events. Prime Day has gone from a one-day sale to two days. Cyber Monday is now generally accepted as Cyber Week.

Sales events are so effective at incentivizing shoppers that retailers are leaning into them even harder to drive revenue. But beyond driving one-off sales, there’s a greater value that retail sales events bring to the table.

Fighting for Consumer Loyalty

Retail sales events provide an opportunity to create multiple touch points throughout the year to engage shoppers with incentives and excitement. These events are critical to driving long-term loyalty, which is increasingly difficult to maintain in a saturated and competitive market. For example, the growth of ecommerce led to a rise in direct-to-consumer brands aiming to pull loyal shoppers away from legacy retail juggernauts.

As a result, loyalty programs have moved from a “nice-to-have” to mandatory. Consumers have come to expect recurring compensation for their business in the form of loyalty points, cash back, exclusive offerings and other incentives. Some retailers like Nordstrom have creatively built on their brand and business model to offer unique perks, like free alterations or exclusive shopping experiences paired with a glass of champagne.

Similarly, annual sales events are an extremely effective loyalty extension. They are a high-performing touch point that helps retailers “step on the gas” by highlighting special incentives that won’t be on offer most of the year.

Investing Strategically Throughout the Year

Smart marketers will look at these retail events as valuable opportunities to attract new shoppers and steal loyalty from the competition. By strategically investing in events when and where they know their audience will be engaged, they can continuously activate those shoppers and stay top of mind. Conversely, marketers that don’t actively manufacture multiple high points throughout the year run the risk of letting customers lose interest in their brand.  

Holiday sales events aren’t going away and remain essential to the retail calendar. Retail-owned sales events, on the other hand, are branded experiences that deliver unmatched incentives and discounts on a wide range of partner brands and products. Marketers will thrive when they invest in making retail sales events a key part of their acquisition and loyalty strategy. Those who don’t just may underestimate how competitive the loyalty landscape has become. 

Kristen Gall is President of Rakuten where she leads the company’s revenue-generating operations. She oversees teams driving product strategy, customer experience, digital strategy, marketing, sales and the company’s relationships with its 3,500+ U.S. and Canadian retail partners. In 2019 she led the rebranding of the company, then known as Ebates, moving 12 million members to the new brand with no impact on sales or revenue. A dynamic strategist with more than 20 years of ecommerce and retail experience, Gall has previously held executive leadership roles at Old Navy, Leapfrog Enterprises and Z Gallerie. She started her career at Gap Inc. in its executive training program before progressing through roles in business management and merchandising with Gap and Levi Strauss.

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