As a general term, a promotion encompasses all the different ways available to make a product or service known to and purchased by customers, usually, for a limited period of time. The word promotion could also be used specifically to refer to a particular activity that is intended to promote a business, product or service.

Shops and/or retailers often use a range of promotional offers to try and lure people to buy their products such as:

  • A temporary reduction in the price of a product e.g. 50% off or 10% off every day;
  • End of season sales;
  • Christmas or Back-to-school specials;
  • BOGOF i.e. Buy One and Get One for Free a.k.a Dollar for Two in the local context;
  • Loyalty reward programs like the ones used by mobile phone companies;
  • Promotional gifts or giveaways;
  • Get free X product when you buy Y quantities of a certain product;
  • Liquidation sales.

Given the low spending power among consumers due to poor remuneration plus an illiquid economy, it is a tough world for many retailers. Furthermore, cut-throat competition has armed consumers with the ability to compare products and prices many-a-times stretching to the limit consumers’ loyalty to brands.

To stay in business, retailers need constant ingenuity. Many often respond to the glut in spending power by coming up with an assortment of promotions, as a way to keep customers flocking through their doors, or to promote new or slow moving products. At any given time, many brands/products in the retail industry are on promotion.

The festive period and the New Year with its back-to-school promotions certainly usher in the biggest shopping season of the year. During these times of the year, newspapers heave under the weight of all manner of promotions. The promotions extraordinarily ornamented with “was $69” and “now $65” always tell consumers they will save if they buy the specials. Yes, the products may be reduced by a few dollars or cents but consumers will save more by keeping money in their pockets and buy only when it is absolutely necessary.

Used wisely, promotions can boost sales and profitability for businesses while also enhancing their brands. But from a consumer point of view, the marketplace always represents a jungle with many lurking, and misleading techniques that border on unfair business practices employed by some retailers when it comes to bargain pricing.

For instance, some products are sold at discounted prices for longer than they are on sale at a non-promotional price. This makes it difficult for consumers to know whether or not they are getting value for their money as it is impossible to gauge what the real price is. Oftentimes, the same type of product is priced in different ways, depending on how it is packaged or presented. Others common sullied tactics include:

  • making bargains look attractive – something a consumer can not miss – when they are no-bargains at all;
  • products that increase in price only for a few days before being sold on offer for months;
  • multibuys where products are more expensive per item when they are on promotion than they are not on promotion;
  • Products that are on offer for longer than they are at higher price.

As sure as they are many honest retailers, they are equally those who are unscrupulous. Consumers should be wary of retailers and salespeople who use High Pressure Methods to coerce them into buying things they do not want simply because they are on sale or for any other reason for that matter.

Many consumers have also learnt the hard way that the so-called bargains are not always the best of buys. That calls for consumers to think twice before indulging in that 50 percent off special.

As a cardinal rule when selling, or making promotions, prices of goods and services must be clearly made available for consumers. There should be clear indications of the price of a product or a service thus enabling the consumer not only to know the purchase value, but also to compare the different products and services.

New research by Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management found out that in some consumer’s minds, price denotes quality. For others, low price leads a consumer to believe that she is getting good value.

“The bottom line of our research is that people simultaneously believe that low prices mean good value and that low prices mean low quality. But these two beliefs are not equally present in consumer’s minds all the time,” the research concluded.

Promotions can succeed when consumers perceive that they are getting a good deal, but they can also backfire if consumers observe that lower prices indicate poor quality.

Consumers should exercise caution before buying by doing the following:

  • Question yourself – ask yourself if you really need what you are buying. If you choose an item because you just need it, make sure it meets your needs;
  • Learn about the product or service by comparing similar products of different brands or makes from different shops in your area;
  • Find how the product is operated or how long it should last;
  • Check warrantees or guarantees;
  • Check on the reputability of the service provider. Ask about the experience concerning the service provider’s reliability, honesty and reputation. Find whether they accept returns of faulty goods and give refunds;
  • Be sure to understand the terms and conditions of the sale;
  • Check the interest rate if you buy under a credit agreement;
  • Know your rights and bodies that can protect you if things go wrong;
  • Always read labels – understand what goes into the product you are buying;
  • Buy locally produced goods;
  • Boycott! – Do not buy from unethical retailers or retailers of shonky goods – this is one sure fire way of enforcing behavioural change on the part of service providers.