Is it ‘too cheeky’ to ask for a VIP discount?


When a customer turns into a true fan, demonstrates his or her status as being among your best customers, how do you recognize this?

Do you reach out and acknowledge him or her as being one of your best customers? Or do you wait for the customer to ask something more of you in return for their multiple purchases?

The bigger question: what to do with VIP’s?

There’s no doubt that a savvy retailer nurtures its best customers, building a base of support to sustain a business over the long-term. So it’s better for you if you’ve figured out the response to a VIP in advance. And better still if you can take the initiative and act, rather than react.

Downloading the weekend’s web orders brings this gem to the in-box, with the order’s “special instructions” message copied below. Now the retailer must react…. How would you respond to a customer inquiry like this one?

“no special instructions. But as a frequent customer of yours (normally in person, rather than on the website) and having recently bought 3 pieces… and attended the … party many years ago) I hoped it would not be too cheeky to ask if it is possible for a discount, that would be hugely appreciated. If not then of course do go ahead with the transaction still. Thank you in advance.”

If you’ve read my rants about finding full price buyers, you’ll know that I’m a champion for holding up the integrity of list prices. Our training Zero Percent Off! explains a strategy for discount-free selling online.

But that discount-free strategy presumes your prices have integrity, that you actually intend to sell them at the price listed (unlike, say, JC Penney). This presumes your value for money matches the price. And it’s a strategy that works when a brand’s story sidesteps the bargain comparison and promises something better (and then the product delivers on that promise).

It’s not too cheeky

If the example above was taken from such a retailer’s in-box, with that kind of a strategy, then the retailer’s first response to Ms. Too Cheeky ought not be to cut the price.

But regardless the response, there’s this undeniable fact to be faced about the ‘special instructions’ message above: if the customer thinks she’s a VIP, then she is a VIP.  

It’s not too cheeky. And so now she needs to be recognized as a VIP, better late than never. You’ve got a program for VIP’s, right? You can do better than a straight price cut. Make room for VIP privileges in a discount-free sales strategy.

(Hey, don’t tell me that every customer is a VIP in your business. It’s not accurate. This notion lead’s to an undifferentiated kind of communications style; one that can be an over-reaching, false intimacy with undue gratitude shown to all.  Only a few — your best customers — will recognize this kind of talk as ringing true. So come on, keep it real. Keep it special. Recognize the real VIP’s and keep your authenticity; you’ll need it over the course of the customer’s communications lifecycle.)

Ideas for your VIPs

What makes a VIP for your business, only you can decide the criteria (unless the customer decides it for him or herself!). But I think of it as fundamentally defined by multiple purchases. You’ll want a system to help you recognize whatever criteria you come up with, and then trigger (automate?) how you reach out and communicate.

Here are ideas for how you might reward a VIP, while holding onto the integrity of your prices:

– Suppose you’re planning a new product or collection of products to be released. Arrange an exclusive, advance look for your VIP’s. This works especially for retailers selling products with a fashion or trendy sensibility.

– Imagine an event — virtual or in the physical world — that VIP’s could be invited to attend. Suppose you’re moving into a new, better factory or retail location? Find something for VIP’s to do or observe. Yes, it’s possible to extend participation into an online context.

– Send a personal note. Suppose there’s a founding artist with a touch of celebrity in your business. A personal note can feel like a special acknowledgement far out of proportion to the effort required to send it. But this can work even if there’s no charismatic leader at the top; a faceless leader can still make an emotional impact (the important part.)

– Invent an annual occasion, a milestone marker in the story of your company. It can be a real-world event or a simpler announcement around which you can build a series of online messages. VIP’s get to learn about this first or participate in special / extra ways. Find the scarcity part of the occasion, and build in special access.

– If a VIP is foremost designated as one who orders repeatedly, find ways to reward the frequency of their purchases. Waiving or revising the cost of shipping can be one method of rewards. But including ‘free gifts’ with purchase are another. What kind of small item might you include in an order as a thank you gift for VIP’s?  If nothing comes to mind for you, then find another company’s catalog and play a game with yourself to find the ‘give away’ item from among their selection.  Then revisit your own catalogue and invent stuff to fill this role.

– Anything to increase the average order size can only help your business. Building promotions or incentives around a customer’s order if it’s above a value of  ‘X’ is an approach worthy of some experimentation. Again, revising the cost of shipping may be a place to start here. But depending on your shopping cart’s sophistication, there can be lots of options. Imagine how a VIP status could be triggered by orders of a certain size. Another way of looking at this is:  what ‘extra’ can your customer pay or buy into to become a VIP?

– Ask a VIP to do something for you. Sometimes the better gift is the opportunity to contribute, rather than the giving of something. We can feel more connected, more recognized, by being asked to contribute something of our own (be it our time and effort, our recommendation, or our support in any number of ways).  What can your VIP’s do for you? Ask them, and you might be delighted to see how special they feel because of it.

Price in the cost of VIP benefits

If any of these ideas appear like they’ll cost time and money, then you’re right. The best ideas do take effort, and come at some expense. But first of all, with a little creativity these ideas don’t need to cost a lot. They can start small, they can start ‘virtual’ and they can grow over time. But secondly, the expense of following through on ideas like this ought be factored into your pricing up-front.  What can you do to build in enough profit to allow for these kinds of extras?

Consider how your brand will be perceived if you were consistently doing and (expanding) just half of the ideas on this short list. And then consider the alternative of pitching ever louder “VIP” discounts to people who just signed up for an email newsletter. Which direction do you want to go?  

How might you reply to that ‘too cheeky’ customer who wrote in with her order, asking for a discount in light of her VIP status? Our Zero Percent Off! course helps answer the question. Contact us to learn more

Updated: January 12, 2021
Published: July 16, 2012

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