Prime Day has passed, and Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) has succeeded yet again in getting consumers to shop excessively for no reason in the middle of July. Other large retailers also offered sales on July 15 and 16 (this year's two-day version of Prime Day), but most smaller stores simply treated the day like any other.
That was probably a smart move since Amazon's promotion essentially sucked all the air out of the room. Most brick-and-mortar chains (with the Amazon-owned Whole Foods being a notable exception) don't fare well on Prime Day, and smaller companies risk promoting a sale for limited impact.
But now that Amazon has finished its promotion, small business owners can take a page out of the digital giant's playbook by holding a special event in the middle of summer that drives a big sales boost.
Celebrate your customers
A smaller retailer has to hold events that resonate with its customer base while bringing new people in. Back in my days as general manager of a huge toy and hobby store, we rarely held sales because loyal customers received a steady discount.
But in the summer, we held a sort of yard sale. We would essentially empty our very large storage room and put anything that had been sitting around on sale at a heavy discount. The merchandise selection would be bizarre, as we often bought heavily discounted contents sight unseen from stores that were closing.
One year we had an enormous amount of Star Wars memorabilia with only less popular characters. Most people would not pay full price for a Darth Maul, but at $5 each they flew off the shelf (as did well-priced three-foot-tall Jar Jar Binks alarm clocks).
We took the merchandise into our parking lot, barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs, rented a cotton candy machine, and made it a fun weekend just to come out. We always attracted a crowd of shoppers and gawkers while generating some cash and creating some new customers.
Any retailer can throw a similar event. It's important to know your audience. Your store might fare better with an after-hours wine and cheese party showing off some special merchandise. You might also consider a bring-a-friend event where customers get added savings for bringing in new customers.
It's also a good idea to use the summer to host a charity event. Work with a local nonprofit, sports team, or school group and give them 5% to 10% of sales during a period of hours. Ideally, your partner organization will bring in a crowd, and you can make some sales and create new fans.
Have fun, be creative
You probably can't afford discounts as deep as the ones Amazon offers on Prime Day. What you can do is have an event that's unique to your store. Be creative, involve your customers, and use social media to get the word out. This isn't about copying Amazon -- it's a chance to strengthen your bond with your customer base while generating sales and exposing your store to a wider audience.