Everyone wants to be a winner. This universal ambition applies to your
customers, too. So why not accommodate them. Hold an in-store contest
that rewards shoppers with appealing
prizes. The result will be happy customers and busy cash registers.
If you think that sounds like a winwin situation, you're not alone. Store
contests are time-honored vehicles for
building customer loyalty. Careful,
though: Pulling off a successful one
means more than stacking a pile of
entry blanks next to a shoe box. You
want to design an event that captures
as many customer names as possible,
then add them to your mailing list for
How's it done? Here's what the
RULE NO. 1:
OFFER LOTS OF PRIZES.
"If you offer only one or two big
prizes many people will figure they
have little chance to win and will hesitate to enter your contest," says
Murray Raphel, president of Raphel
Marketing, Atlantic City, N.J. "But if
you offer an additional 25 smaller
prizes people will say, 'Hey, I have a
shot at this.'" Be sure, though, that
the small prizes are desirable ones.
Bonus tip: Maximize participation by
announcing in advance that everyone
who enters will be a winner of a 5 or
10 percent discount coupon.
RULE NO. 2: CREATE SYNERGY.
A contest is great on its own, but your
customers will be even more
enthused if you tie it in with another
special event such as your store's
anniversary or a holiday.
Whatever it is, make it a party!
"The most successful contests are
part of a larger promotion that
includes not only a special sale, but
also supporting activities such as performing musicians, mimes, magicians or other entertainers," says
Edgar A. Falk, a New York City-based
advertising consultant and author of
1001 Ideas to Create Retail Excitement. "These create real excitement that
attracts more participants."
Bonus tip: Coordinate the event with
your Chamber of Commerce to avoid
conflict with other happenings such
as local parades, which can distract
shoppers and reduce your traffic.
RULE NO. 3:
ADVERTISE YOUR CONTEST.
Newspapers, flyers, radio spots, the
Internet — they're all great vehicles
for your contest message. "Use media
that work together to build excitement," says Larry Mullins, a 30-year
retailing veteran who runs UltraSales,
a Boulder, Colo.-based consultancy. "A powerful media mix is print, radio
and direct mail. Coordinate them to
send the same message."
Here are other promotional tips:
- Create a celebratory atmosphere
with print ads that feature balloons,
clowns, musical instruments and
other common party symbols.
- Consider dominating your local
radio station with a series of commercials promoting your special day. Says
Mullins: "Even smaller retailers can
dominate on a local radio station for a
certain period of time. It's a great
technique for getting your message
across because people tend to listen to
their favorite radio stations continuously. That's not the case with television, where viewers tend to surf channels to watch different programs."
- Consider postcards for your
direct-mail invitations. They can get
more attention than sealed envelopes
and are cheaper to print and mail.
Bonus tip: Update your Web site to
promote the contest. Invite people to
complete an online entry form to
bring to the store.
RULE NO. 4:
Advertising brings shoppers to your
store; good in-store follow-through
encourages them to enter your contest. Try these ideas from Mullins:
- Prime your salespeople. Make
sure they hear your radio commercials and see copies of your print and
- Use silent salesmen. Post colorful
signs throughout the store reminding
shoppers to enter your contest. Inside
the entrance post a large sign with pictures of the prizes. Prepare a handout
so customers who leave your store
without buying will have information
about your contest.
- Get interactive. Encourage customers at checkout to enter your contest. Hand them an entry blank and
say something like, "We want to make
sure all of our best customers enter."
Bonus tip: Set an easily identified entry
box at the back of the store to encourage customers to walk by all of your
RULE NO. 5:
CAPTURE CUSTOMER NAMES.
Capture all participant names and
addresses for future mailings. Your
entry blank should include space for
names, surface and e-mail addresses
and phone numbers.
"Contest participants are like gold
for your mailing list because they are already enthusiastic about your
store,” says Mullins. “Remember, it costs six times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep a currentone.” Appoint someone to keep your mailing list maintained. Use it at least six times a year.
Bonus tip: Include a spot on your entry blank for comments and merchandise or service wish lists.
RULE NO. 6:
TRUMPET YOUR WINNERS.
Announce the winners of your top
two or three prizes. That gives them a
good feeling about your store and
encourages other people to enter your
contest next time. "One of my pet
peeves about contests is that no one
ever tells you who the winners are,"
says Raphel. "Eventually people start
thinking, 'I don't remember anyone
ever winning this contest. What is the
sense of entering it?'"
One technique is to post the photos
of winners on a display board at the
front of your store. "With digital technology the cost is nearly zero for a
great photograph," says Dr. William
Rupp, dean of Stephens College of
Business at the University of
Montevallo (Ala.). "The images can be
used in a continuous picture show of
positive and satisfied customers. A
picture is worth a thousands words
and a thousand sales."
Bonus tip: Your winners may be more
comfortable if you just post their initials and hometowns rather than their
RULE NO. 7: FOLLOW-THROUGH.
You learn something new each time
you hold a contest. Use that to your
Hold a staff meeting and discuss
the experience: What was done right
and wrong. How did shoppers react
to the contest. Anything special they
liked or disliked. How about the
prizes. Were people looking for
something that wasn't offered. What
can be done better next time.
Bonus tip: Assign a staff member to
take notes during these post-contest
reviews and write up the best ideas.
Remember that you must allow anyone to enter your contest; you may
not restrict entrants to people who
purchase merchandise. Consult with
an attorney to make sure you comply
with all state and local laws regarding
contests and sweepstakes.
Use these tips to design an in-store
contest that spreads goodwill, sparks
sales, and captures the names and
addresses of your best customers for
your mailing list.
Build up a following by hosting a
series of contests. Shoppers will get
excited about entering your next one. Remember: Everybody loves a winner and every winner will love your
Plan A Successful
Want shoppers to get excited
about your contest. Here are
some tips for turning "hohum" to "humdinger":
- Decorate your store. Banners,
streamers, balloons and colorful
signs position your contest as
part of a celebration.
- Dress your staff. Use fun costumes or party hats to create a
- Use effective tags. For the duration of the contest, attach
brightly colored price tags with
special prices to select merchandise. The best tags show
both list price and sale price.
- Send "preferred-customer
letters" to people already on
your mailing list, inviting them
to participate in the contest.
- Ask your best vendors to supply
some prizes in exchange for
publicity. Explore similar cooperative agreements with local
printers and party goods stores.
- Announce winners. Hold drawings periodically throughout the
day. Ring a bell and announce
the winner over the public
address system: "Britt Wortman
just won a $50 gift certificate.
Let's hear it for Britt!"
Phillip M. Perry is a New York-based writer and consultant.