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Why and How Your Online Store Should Offer Loss Leaders

By Sammi Caramela, writer
Sep 27, 2018
Image Credit: mrmohock/Shutterstock
> Business Basics

Here's how you can implement the loss leader strategy for your e-commerce business.

You're shopping at an aromatherapy store when you notice a ridiculously inexpensive oil diffuser, something you've wanted for months. You decide to get it because you love a good deal, but you realize you can't use a diffuser without essential oils – so you buy those too, but they are not discounted. Oh, and then there's this essential oil guide that tells you everything you need to know about using the oils. You want to understand what you're doing, right?

Before you know it, you've spent far more than you planned, and this likely wouldn't have happened if you hadn't felt so obliged to buy that low-priced diffuser in the first place. This is a pricing strategy called loss leaders, and that aromatherapy shop knew exactly what they were doing.

According to John Story, Ph. D., associate professor at Cameron School of Business, "loss leaders are products that are sold below cost in order to build traffic and hopefully increase sales of other items."

Loss leaders aren't limited to brick-and-mortar shops; they can also be offered by online retailers, luring consumers to their site with affordable prices and retaining them with complimentary items or targeted ads.

"The role of the loss leader has changed in online shopping, because you can't prescribe a tortuous path through your online product catalog," said Story. "However, online loss leaders can be powerful tools and should not be abandoned just because sales have shifted online."

Here's how you can implement the loss leader strategy to your e-commerce business.

Targeted ads

Online retailers have the upper hand when it comes to targeted ads. Even if a loss leader simply draws attention to your site, without consumers making a purchase, it is still allowing you to target that consumer in retargeting ad campaigns, according to Tim Trampedach, owner of e-commerce site Torqued.

If they do make the purchase, however, you'll have even more information to work with, like buying trends and shopping preferences.

"We know which customers are more likely to purchase multiple items when they visit our site, and these are the perfect targets for loss leader pricing," said Story. "With targeted advertising, we can be certain that loss leaders are offered to those customers who are most likely to respond favorably."

Every sale, no matter the amount, generates a customer record, added Trampedach. "This will allow for marketing to that customer for potential future sales."

Offsetting the loss

You might be hesitant to implement this marketing strategy because you run the risk of losing revenue. However, there are many ways to offset this loss on a digital platform – often more so than in a brick and mortar store.

"In the online store, once the loss leader is in the shopping basket, we have the opportunity to offer complementary items, other sales items or promotions, such as free shipping with a minimum order," said Story. "In a traditional offline store, we didn't know a shopper was walking out with only the loss leader until they checked out and left. The data-rich online store provides more opportunities to offset the loss in loss leaders than we ever had with in-person shopping."

Matt Warren, CEO and founder of Veeqo, a shipping software brand, recommended offering a major sale on a few products to lure customers, then encouraging them to purchase other non-discounted products. You can do this by creating a section under products or at checkout that says something along the lines of "frequently bought together" or "customers who bought this item also bought," as executed on Amazon.

Free shipping

Another attractive loss leader, according to Warren, is free shipping. Online retailers can offer this for any amount spent or only for over certain amounts spent (i.e., free shipping for purchases over $50).

"This can be a great way to compete with big retailers and markedly increase onsite conversions," he said. "As long as you still utilize tactics to get people to bulk up their cart and use a quality shipping software … to keep costs to a minimum, it can be a solid strategy."

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Sammi Caramela
Sammi Caramela
See Sammi Caramela's Profile
Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a and Business News Daily staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. Sammi loves hearing from readers - so don't hesitate to reach out! Check out her short stories in Night Light: Haunted Tales of Terror, which is sold on Amazon.
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