For One Month Only!: The Art of the Limited Time Offer

A year after Shobha Tummala opened her second New York City spa, the entrepreneur issued a limited time offer – a special price for just one month – on Brazilian bikini waxes. It was a way, Tummala says, to get existing customers to try a new service.

“We had an existing client base and we wanted to motivate them to switch to us for this service,” says Tummala, whose salons specialize in a centuries-old method of hair removal from India called threading. “They were already going to be here for their other appointment. By deeply discounting that service, we believed that if they tried it, they would switch to us” for waxing, too.

Tummala limited the offer to only a month because customers come back within that time, if not sooner, for their next threading treatment. In one month, she’d hit every customer.

A limited time offer is only as good as its limits. Businesses that are always deeply cutting prices on services or products become known as discount houses, but higher-end companies can judiciously use a limited time offer as a tool to promote a launch, open a new location or keep customers in the off-season.

This summer, Beverly Hills Club, a full-service exercise facility in Beverly Hills, Mich., offered a “join free” promotion to fill the seasonal gap when many existing members put their memberships on hold to head outside for warm-weather activities. This limited time offer – no initiation fee for two months – is one way to pull in new members.

“New? We Want You!”

Tummala’s limited time offer was issued in 2004 through her spa, Shobha; New York Magazine and Citysearch.com. Two years later, Shobha was cited for offering the best Brazilian bikini wax in New York City. The promotion worked.

But there have been times it hasn’t worked for Tummala. When she tried to snatch business from other salons by charging less than the competition for a limited time, Tummala saw a bevy of new customers – and then never saw them again.

“It boosts your sales that one time,” she says. “If you’re adding a service, if you’re adding a new product, if you want customers to experience something new, it works really well.” In its five years, the Shobha company has grown an average of 70 percent every year, Tummala says.

Another reason to issue a limited time offer is when you launch your business, especially if it’s an unfamiliar concept, says Sharon Gaffney, co-founder of LetsMeetOut, which launched in August. For the first couple of months, Gaffney is offering free memberships to her site; she’ll end the offer once the site has “a good community of people,” around 2,500 members.

“It’s a brand new concept, a site that bridges the gap between online dating and social networking,” says Gaffney, who is based in New York. While memberships will eventually reach $9.95 a month, people can join for free for a limited time to get a sense of what it’s all about. “We wanted to build a buzz and build membership. Sometimes people are not ready to try a new thing and they may not pay for it. We thought it was important to offer a free membership so people could understand it, get to know it, join the site and tell their friends.”

Has it worked? Three weeks after a “soft launch,” the site claimed 300 members.

Don’t Miss Out!

Limited time offers can also create a sense of urgency, says Eric Lituchy, president and founder of DelightfulDeliveries.com, an e-comm store he started in 1997 that specializes in gift baskets and gourmet presents. And no one likes to miss out on a deal.

“Consumers tend to procrastinate,” he says. “Limited time offers give them a reason to respond” so they don’t feel like they’re missing an opportunity.

Lituchy often uses the limited time offer in his Internet, catalog and print marketing efforts. “They are highly effective,” says the entrepreneur, who declined to release sales numbers. “Whenever we print a consumer catalog, we offer a discount for orders placed by a specific date. These offers are also beneficial in spreading out our call volume, so the call center isn’t inundated with calls the week prior to a specific event or holiday.

“Two weeks before Valentine’s Day, we may offer 10 percent off any order placed before February 7,” he says. Whenever you offer a special, keep it simple and focused. “Limited time offers  aren’t appropriate for complex orders that require a lot of lead time,” he adds.

But, if you act now , you can creatively and effectively use limited time offers  to boost your business in a big way, and not for a limited time only!

Lynne Meredith Schreiber is a freelance writer at StartupNation.


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