On social media, deals need to be deep

April 12, 2012

Promise amazing sale prices on a Facebook page and they'd better be just that, or shoppers will be disappointed.

When retailers drive social media traffic with the promise of hot limited-time bargains, they’d better not disappoint consumers. If deals don’t live up to the hype, the approach could backfire on the chain.

A Hy-Vee store in Marion, Iowa, took that risk this week with a four-hour mystery sale on Monday that lured people ahead of time with the phrase, “These prices are so astonishing, we can’t print them.” It then posted the prices four hours ahead of the actual sale period.

Judging by visitor comments, some prices met that satisfaction standard and others did not. Thumbs up on fresh cantaloupe for 99 cents and a dozen extra large eggs for 77 cents. But shrugs on the tenderloin sandwich for $2.77, which one commenter thought sold regularly for $2.99—not much of a difference.  Six items in all were promoted on the store’s Facebook page.

Loss leaders are as old as the industry, and they often build traffic. But this particular promotion said prices would be valid only for as long as supplies lasted.  In our view at The Lempert Report, this contributed to the lukewarm response on the Facebook page.  Naturally, retailers must protect themselves against opportunists by limiting purchase amounts and rain checks. Yet this promotion started at 4 p.m., when many people are still working.  If they can’t get to the store until a few hours later, why make the trip and possibly be disappointed.

We applaud the Hy-Vee store for venturing into largely uncharted waters with its Facebook page promotion. This could appeal to smartphone owners on the go and to chief household shoppers thinking about their evening meal. So we suggest future ads tie to the dinnertime opportunity—include meal solutions or even hot prepared foods at sharp prices, and surround those core items with tempting sides and beverages.

Other limited-hours sales could be tied to other recurring events in everyday living—breakfast on the run for commuters, snacks for after-school events, and family movie and game nights at home.