Limited-time offers put any marketing campaign on steroids.
As consumers, we’re engrained in our current habits. Getting anyone to act isn’t easy.
An offer with a ticking clock cuts right through our inertia, forcing us to act right now.
But you can’t just promise a time-constraining offer and leave it at that. You have to captivate your audience with your copy and convince them to say “yes.”
Use these five writing tricks to get your audience to act on limited-time special offers.
What Is a Limited-Time Offer?
A limited-time offer is any kind of discount, deal, special gift, or reward a buyer can get if they make a purchase from you during a certain time period.
Retailers use limited-time offer ads all the time to get people to buy their products. Here is an example from Carter’s clothing store for kids.
There are several offers happening here, actually. You have the big one: 50 to 60 percent off the entire site and store for Black Friday. Above that, you have free shipping on all orders, plus an extra 20 percent off your $40 purchase if you use the code WRAPIT. In the lower right-hand corner, there’s one more offer: Get 25 percent off when you refer a friend.
Offers available for a limited time only are a great way to draw people in, create a sense of urgency, and get them to convert.
But there’s a dark side to offers, too, and Carter’s is a prime example.
If I came back to this site after Black Friday, I would notice something: different limited-time offers for different discounts on different clothing.
Basically, Carter’s has sales like these all the time.
Is it truly a limited-time offer if you know there will be one next week and the week after that?
And is throwing all of these deals on one very busy landing page a good idea? Won’t buyers get confused?
In this article, I’ll show you how to create an effective limited-time special offer that will attract buyers and get them to convert.
The Advantages of Special Offers
First, let’s talk about why you want to make special offers available in the first place.
Put simply, they’re a great middle-of-the-funnel tool for getting visitors to become buyers. Let’s say you’re in the market for some new furniture. You google what you’re looking for and find yourself on Crate&Barrel’s site.
They’re offering 40 percent off furniture, plus they’re having a Black Friday sale! Aren’t you more likely to buy something now, knowing there is a sale that could be over soon?
Offering your customers a reduction in price, free shipping, or some other deal makes them feel like they’re getting the most value for their money. Creating a special event or a sense of urgency (like the Black Friday Event) lets shoppers know they have to act fast if they want that value.
Limited-Time Offer Examples
You can use different techniques to get people to convert on a limited-time special offer:
The Hurry-Up Limited Offer
Here’s a great example of a hurry-up limited offer, also known as a limited-period offer, from clothing store Express. Front and center on their site, in a big, red box is an offer for 40 percent off everything. And right above it, it says “Last Day!”
This is your absolute last chance to get a discount on everything (or almost everything), so you better act fast!
The While-Supplies-Last Offer
The limited-supply offer is a classic technique used a lot by makeup and fragrance companies, particularly around the holidays. Estee Lauder is no exception.
The fact that there only a few of these sets available makes the buyer feel like part of an exclusive club. It also adds a sense of urgency. If you want one of these, you better act before they run out.
The One-Time Offer
A one-time offer creates the biggest sense of FOMO (fear of missing out). Here’s one from a local producer of heirloom potatoes.
This is a good example of creating a sense of urgency with a one-time offer. If you’re really into potatoes, 20 percent off of seedlings might be something you want to jump on right away.
5 Ways to Get Your Audience to Act on Limited-Time Offers
There are certain qualities all high-converting limited-time offers have. Let’s walk through them and look at some good (and bad) limited-time sale examples major brands have used.
1. Draw Attention to New Experiences
People want to try new things. That’s why the “experience economy” is booming. In fact, between 2014 and 2016, personal spending on events and experiences grew four times faster than personal spending on goods, according to investment firm McKinsey.
Even if your brand falls into the “goods” category, you can still draw appeal by focusing on the new experiences your product will provide.
Ask yourself, “What makes this deal different?”
Is it the first time you’ve made this offer? Is it a once-in-a-lifetime deal? Does it come with an exclusive limited-edition gift? If so, highlight it!
Let’s look at an example. Shutterfly, a retailer of custom photo gifts, often features free photo prints, free 8 x 8 photo books, and free shipping on orders over $39. Since those deals are common, it makes them less valuable to their customers over time.
Deals like a free calendar just before the holidays make for a new, seasonally relevant customer experience.
Let’s look at another example from retail giant Walmart.
Notice how Walmart draws attention to their “best offer ever” in this ad. Doesn’t it make you want to learn more by clicking on the red call-to-action button before you miss out on the chance to save an extra $35?
By defining what makes this offer different from others and what new experience customers will get from it, Walmart has created an enticing ad that will get people to act fast.
2. Define Your Offer Dates
When you see limited-time offers, you often see “Act Now” or “While Supplies Last,” as well.
Unfortunately, these calls to action aren’t as strong as other alternatives. Without a clear timeline, your audience may think — or hope — your offer will still be available when they check back the next day, or even the next week.
The problem is that the whole point of limited-time offers is to get people to act fast. You don’t want your audience abandoning your offer; some won’t ever make it back to take advantage of it.
Instead, draw attention to the offer’s deadline with copy like this:
- Ends Friday at Midnight
- Last Day
- Today Only
These types of phrases create a higher level of urgency to get your audience to buy now.
Let’s look at a poor example. In the offer below, Amazon advertises limited-time Kindle discounts. But there’s no clear deadline.
The offer leaves me with this question: Is the deal good only through Christmas, or does it last through New Year’s Day? If I wanted to buy myself a Kindle, I’d be contemplating whether to take the deal or wait until after Christmas to see if someone gives me a Kindle as a gift.
Even when I click on the offer, there’s still no deadline, which makes me think I still have time to act.
If the ad said “Ends December 24,” I might jump on the offer before Christmas.
On the other hand, Office Depot does a great job of highlighting their limited-time Black Friday offers with their countdown clock.
They also include an expiration date on their coupon for 20 percent off, so you know exactly how much time you have to act.
With only one day, 14 hours, 18 minutes, and 28 seconds until their sale begins, and deals expiring even before that, don’t you feel compelled to buy during Black Friday week?
3. Use a Benefit-Based Call to Action
Call Now! Act Fast! Shop Offers! These are all traditional calls to action. They work well, but what if I told you that you could create more excitement by calling attention to the benefits of your offer?
Ask yourself what your audience will get by acting on your offer, and then tell them what it is:
- Get 50% Off Now
- Claim Your Free Handbag
- Sign Up for Savings
Take this example from Tipsy Elves: Order Now and Receive by Friday!
Notice how they don’t just say “Order Now.” Their call to action fulfills a benefit by telling customers they’ll get fast shipping. That adds value to the offer. Coupled with a “Today Only” deadline, it gets people to act quickly.
According to Optimizely, when Kapost tested their calls to action, they found that out of the top 15, 10 of them used the term “get” and 9 of them used the term “your.”
This suggests that the phrase “Get Your [Benefit]” performs better with consumers. This phrase is worth testing on your own limited-time offers.
4. Keep Your Offer Simple and Brief
Your offer should highlight only those points that will get your audience to act, like the benefit and the deadline.
There’s no need to get overly complicated in naming your offer or trying to shove every detail into your marketing material. Just keep your limited-time offer wording simple.
Victoria’s Secret does a wonderful job of this.
Notice how there’s a link to “Details” so people can learn more if they want to. Victoria’s Secret doesn’t try to cram all the details into their ad, which keeps the most important points up front without stressing out buyers.
Kohl’s, on the other hand, gets too complicated in this ad:
There are so many numbers, it’s hard for people to decide which one to pay attention to. When the offer includes “this, this, or this, or this,” it overwhelms the customer. Sure, they want the deal, but are they willing to jump through hoops or try to understand your system in order to get it?
Start by designing a simple offer, and then write the offer in the simplest terms you can. Make it easy for people to take advantage of your offer without too much effort on their part.
5. Be Honest
For people to take action, they have to trust your offer.
For example, limited-time offers coupled with limited inventory drives huge interest.
But you have to be honest about your supply.
If visitors return a week later to find there’s still “Only 6 in stock!” your business and your offer will lose credibility. Shoppers may wait even longer to act, suspecting there will still be “6 left in stock” the next week, too.
Furthermore, this degrades the credibility of future offers. The next time they see a limited-stock offer from you, they may wait around knowing that it’s unlikely you’ll run out.
The same goes for the timing of your offer. If you say your offer ends at midnight, it should end at midnight. Otherwise, your audience won’t act as quickly the next time because they will expect the offer to last longer.
You also have to be honest when differentiating your offer from previous ones. Don’t call it your “best offer ever” if it isn’t. In one of our first limited-time offer examples, we saw that Walmart is offering a $35 savings to customers who open a Walmart credit card and spend $75. They are calling it their “best offer ever.”
If Walmart had offered a $45 savings last year, this offer would lose value. Some customers might wait around to see if a better deal might come along because they wouldn’t trust the claim that this one is the “best.”
Likewise, if you say everything is on sale, then everything better be on sale.
If there are exclusions, customers will get frustrated quickly trying to figure out what they can get on sale and what they can’t. Many will abandon your site altogether.
American Eagle made this grave mistake one holiday season. Here, they advertise “All Sale Everything.” But wait! That doesn’t include jeans, new arrivals, Aerie merchandise, and a whole range of other items.
When they advertised this on their Facebook page with the description, “All Sale. Everything. 40% Off In Stores & Online!” customers were not happy:
You certainly don’t want your limited-time offer to blow up like this! That’s why honesty is so crucial in advertising and why you shouldn’t use false claims in limited-time offers to create a sense of urgency in customers.
Discount Offer Template
We’ve gone over how to present and how to write a discount offer. Now let’s look at a really great offer example you can use as a template.
This one comes from Bath & Body Works, and it hits all five points we talked about.
First, it offers a new, one-of-a-kind experience: Soft Skin = Best Gift Ever. You will be giving the gift of soft skin, and who doesn’t want that?
Second, their offer date is defined. This deal on body cream is only available today. Holy cow! You better buy these now!
Third, they have an action-based CTA. Granted, it’s not the most exciting CTA. They could have written something like “Get Your Softest Skin Now” or “Shop for the Best Gift You Ever Gave,” but the button is simple and gets the point across: Shop.
Fourth, their discount wording is simple and brief. Today, you can get a deal on select body creams. You will win at gift-giving. The end.
And finally, they are honest. They tell you right up front that only select body creams are on sale and you can only buy 15 at a time. They also let you know that you have to show an email to get the deal in stores, which probably means you have to sign up for their email list. Clever.
This is a pretty good template for your limited-time special offer. Keep it simple, keep it on-point, and keep it honest, and you’ll be fine.
Limited-time offers are a smart marketing move. People will jump on them like there’s no tomorrow. But it’s not the time-constraint alone that entices conversions and sales. As we’ve discussed, the way you write your ad will not just affect your success rate now, but in the future.
Use the tips above to write limited-time offer copy that will convince customers to act fast, without losing their trust or long-term loyalty.