3 Retail Holiday Promotion Ideas to Win Big This Season

By: Justin Guinn on November 3, 2016

And just like that, another year winds down into its final two months, and the holiday season is upon us. This likely means crazy hours and an inflated bottom line for your retail shop. If that’s not the case—especially the inflated bottom line part—you might need to employ some fresh retail holiday promotion ideas.

In early October, the National Retail Federation set its annual holiday (November and December) sales expectations for 2016 at $655.8 billion. This expectation, which excludes auto, gas and restaurant sales, would be a 3.6 percent increase from last year’s $632.8 billion holiday season.

As you can see, holiday money is there for the taking. But are you getting as much as you’d like? If not, the retail holiday promotion ideas below should help boost sales during the season.

Even if you’re not struggling to capitalize on the holiday season, these strategies include great customer engagement tactics that can be employed strategically throughout the year to establish customer loyalty for your business.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Give ‘Thanks’ to Your Customers With a Contest

Get Active in Your Community

Leverage the Value of Gift Cards

Final Thoughts for Your Retail Holiday Promotion Ideas

Give ‘Thanks’ to Your Customers With a Contest

The first promotion idea for this holiday season leverages social channels—yours and your customers’—to generate (mostly) free publicity for your products. How? A customer photo contest, that’s how.


_Starbucks’ White Cup Contest; a great example of a customer photo contest

Source: Starbucks_

The concept of a customer photo contest is pretty simple, assuming you already have social media accounts set up. Customers submit photos featuring a specific product through your social channels, and they’re entered to win a reward. That’s basically it.

Here are a few detailed steps for carrying this out:

  • Choose a product, or group of products, that you want to feature this holiday season. In the example shown above, Starbucks asked customers to decorate their coffee cups and submit photos of their creations through social media with a contest hashtag.

    You can modify this to work for any product. Verify the purchase occurred within the contest dates by requiring a copy of the customer’s receipt be submitted as well.

  • Set up rules and prizes that work for both sides. You’ll need to establish guidelines, i.e., how the product should be featured, and offer prizes that will entice customers to participate but don’t break the bank for you.

    There’s also the matter of deciding how to determine a winner (e.g., whichever photos have the most likes/shares). Be detailed and upfront with the rules. After all, this should improve customer engagement, not damage it.

  • Notify customers any way you can about the contest. You need to get the word out about the contest. Tell any loyal customers you see on a regular basis. Create handouts to distribute at the register. Customize your receipts to include information about it. Blast it across all your social channels.

  • Set a start date, and GO! Don’t stop promoting the contest until the final prize has been awarded. If it’s a success, you can even add a few extra rewards to extend the life of the contest past the holiday season and into the new year.

You can do a promotion like this anytime of the year, or even year-round; just sweeten the rewards during the holidays to encourage more participants.

Or, try starting a contest on Christmas Day and running it through January. That way, you’re engaging with customers and gift card recipients beyond the holidays. This can help get them in your store and spending more into the new year.

Get Active in Your Community

Next on the list is community involvement. Similar to the year-round applicability of photo contests, you can (and totally should!) be an active participant in your community throughout the year.

Nonetheless, there are great opportunities for involvement during the holiday season that make this worthy of our retail holiday promotion ideas list.

Obviously doing good is good. And putting yourself, your brand, employees and products in front of potential customers is always valuable. But there’s something deeper at work when you get active and strive to make a positive impact in your community.

According to a study from Cane Communications, 70 percent of millennials will spend more at businesses that support causes they care about.


Millennials make up $2.45 trillion in spending, so there’s some value there that you should tap into. Here are a few ideas for holiday community engagement projects you can execute during the season to strengthen your bond with the community and build brand awareness. (Each of these can be modified for year-round community involvement.)

  • Take on an impactful community initiative. Source ideas from local schools, employees, family and friends and local nonprofits to find a positively impactful project that is reasonable for you to carry out. Be sure to promote your progress along the way.

    An example of this is local Austin, Texas burger joint P. Terry’s Giving Back Days. On these days, P. Terry’s donates the profits from all 12 of their locations to a nonprofit. While that level of contribution may be unrealistic for your small business, you could donate a percentage of profits or even pledge to match contributions from your customers.

  • Offer the community classes to learn skills unique to your business. Hold free classes in your store or around the area to teach skills that are in line with your products and brand. For example, a kitchenwares store can offer cooking and etiquette classes.

  • Create an employee community giving contest. If you have a decent number of employees willing to participate (at least three), encourage and even incentivize them to tackle community projects that are important to them. Have them record their progress and the impact.

    Have your customers vote on which employee should win the grand prize via social likes, shares or even by having a donation jar in the store for each employee, so customers can donate to their favorite cause as a way of casting their vote.

Think about specific groups that patronize your store and what might matter to them. For example, if you sell cycling gear, you may decide to help out the local cycling community by refurbishing some run down trails or spreading awareness about proper bike lane safety.

It’s worth stressing again that this strategy isn’t something that must be confined to the holiday season. If you’re in a position to give back, there’s always a worthy cause, and you’ll receive the same benefits, regardless of the season.

Leverage the Value of Gift Cards

Our final retail holiday promotion idea takes advantage of the mighty retail gift card.


Oh, the gift card, the item that co-workers love dishing out for its ease and grandmothers refuse to give because of the lack of a personal touch.

Do you have a strategy for gift cards? Do you even offer gift cards? Hopefully, you answered “Yes” to both of those questions. But, if not, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

The holidays are a great time to roll out or revamp your gift card strategy; they enable customers to grab something quickly without much thought, so they can get back to the seasonal grind.

According to an article by David Rekuc for Marketing Land, two strategies for gift card optimization include:

  • Offering a discount on the price of gift cards. While you want to mitigate any losses you take, including discounts, there’s strategic incentive to discount gift cards. You can promote the discounted cards at the register to get customers to add one or two to their cart. And as Rekuc says, “a lot of gift cards will go unredeemed and will help subsidize any discount given during this time.”

  • Offering an increase to the desired amount of a gift card. Here again conventional wisdom would say that you don’t want to offer $120 worth of merchandise for a $100 gift card. But Rekuc again explains, “This is an opportunity to make your gift cards appear more attractive while increasing your average order value.”

Final Thoughts for Your Retail Holiday Promotion Ideas

As we’ve stressed throughout this article, the work and strategies you use to boost holiday sales and raise brand awareness are applicable year-round. And the promotions you set forth in November and December should promote continued shopping into the new year. All of these promotion ideas offer the potential for such continued engagement and loyalty.

  • Gaining customer retention and loyalty is a huge win for retailers like yourself. For more advice, check out our retail loyalty guide to help you get valuable customers back in your store and spending again and again.

  • And, if you’re serious about gaining greater loyalty beyond the holiday season, consider retail customer management software to help you keep track of valuable data and insights. Read our user reviews and ratings for the top systems.