These days, it seems like every retailer is running some sort of sales promotion. 25% off, $5 off a purchase of $50 or more, buy-one-get-one-free — these approaches are becoming so commonplace that it’s easy to get lost in the mix.

Some outside-the-box creative thinking can help you come up with unique ideas that will differentiate your sales promos from the rest. We’ve compiled 11 ideas to help get your creative juices flowing.

1. Collaborations

Partnering with other brands and/or local businesses is one way to expand your reach and leverage others’ resources and experiences (while sharing your own). Retailers can collaborate to execute unique sales promotions with a variety of angles.

One such example is City Workshop Men’s Supply Company, a menswear store in West Orange, N.J. They co-hosted a giveaway with ani ramen, a restaurant in the next town over, and the winner would receive $100 for a dinner date night.

Customers had to visit City Workshop to enter, and if they made a purchase, they’d be entered twice. “This introduced our people to the restaurant, and the restaurant introduced their people to our shop,” says Josefina Stevens, co-owner of the store. “This cross-promotion was a lot of fun, and people were excited about it. We had a lot of customers coming to enter and purchasing products.”

2. Do something good

Consumers are increasingly demanding more corporate social responsibility from brands. According to various studies and surveys, 90% of consumers want to see more “responsible” products from retailers, and more than half will pay more for those goods. So you can actually run a sales promotion without decreasing the price if you don’t want to.

Here are some ways your sales promos can give back:

  • Donate to a cause or organization for every in-store purchase made during your promo
  • Sell products made by local artisans
  • Host a pet adoption fair, during which time customers can shop your store too
  • Reward customers with a discount for proof of their doing good

Chick-fil-A and Amazon, for example, have both awarded me with $5 gift cards for donating blood to the American Red Cross.

3. Direct mail

In today’s digital age, it’s easy to forget about old-school methods of marketing and advertising. And that’s just as well, because that means that those businesses that do leverage traditional promotion tactics may have an opportunity to be more impressionable.

Chad Rubin, CEO at Skubana, also believes that direct mail is a largely untapped opportunity for retailers. “Direct marketing has been vastly underutilized, as companies have been transitioning to email,” he told us. “You may consider a postcard in the mail as a way to retarget 2nd-time buyers.”

Many grocery stores still use direct mail — in fact, my apartment building has an entire recycling bin next to the mailboxes dedicated to disposing of this stuff. However, I recently received a postcard from Blue Apron that was more eye-catching, and didn’t immediately end up in the bottom of the bin.

If you execute it well, on-brand and with the correct imagery and messaging, your direct mail campaign can drive lots of shoppers to your store. A well-designed invitation to shop could be all you need to reignite interest in your store.

4. Meet the maker

Consumers love to know what, and more importantly who, is behind your products. Nearly half of Millennials, for example, are more likely to purchase from your store if they know who made the merchandise. Meet the maker events are one unique sales promotion that can drive in-store sales.

We see this example frequently at book stores, which often host book signings with the authors. You can discount the products or not — regardless, you’re providing added value to your customers. They get an intimate and immersive product experience, plus a fancy signature to show off to their friends.

Retailers who don’t sell books can also take this approach. If you sell wine, bring in the guy who stomps the grapes at the winery to lead an educational session, followed by a tasting and free glass. Or maybe you bring in a designer from one of the clothing labels you carry so they can debut their new line and host a Q&A. Whatever your product, get creative and think about who made it come to life and how that’d be interesting to your audience.

5. Bag sale

This next unique sales promotion idea is also a really fun and sometimes challenging one: a whatever-you-can-fit-in-this-bag-is-a-single-price sale, for lack of a better word.

Here’s how it works: You provide a shopping bag, cart or other container for shoppers to use to hold their items while shopping. They can then purchase everything that fits inside said container for a single flat price. You’ll set this price based on the cost of your merchandise and how much you can afford to markdown (don’t forget to think about the size of your products, too).

Arc Thrift Stores has run this sales promotion before. Their items are very low-priced, many things even under $1. They sold the bag of items for a flat $5 to in-store shoppers.

6. Pop-up

Pop-up shops are a great way to build buzz and awareness, plus test new markets and products. It’s also a unique sales promo that you can use to spice up your run-of-the-mill sales.

There are two main ways that brick-and-mortar retailers can get involved in pop-ups:

  1. Host another brand’s pop-up with an in-store pop-up
  2. Open your own pop-up in a different location than your brick-and-mortar store

United By Blue is one retailer that has hosted brands that it sells for in-store pop-ups. For the Oxford Pennant pop-up that they hosted in April 2017, they drove 250 people to the event and increased month-over-month sales by 155%.

7. Used and returned product sale

When a customer returns a product, it can amount to more than just a single lost sale. Depending on the item and its condition, you might not be able to salvage and resell it — which means you’ve lost the initial sale and you’ve lost the capital invested in the product. Double bummer.

But one unique sales promotion idea that you can use to mitigate losses from returns or even damaged merchandise, you can host a used and returned product sale. Or, as outdoor goods retailer REI calls it, a garage sale.

The first time I went to an REI Garage Sale, I thought I had mistaken it for an Apple launch. There were tents outside with music, coffee (it was 7 am) and food — plus a line around the corner. The deep discounts draw hundreds (thousands?) of shoppers hoping to score a sweet deal, and it helps REI get rid of product that they otherwise might not be able to sell.

8. Put a twist on events and holidays

Robert Barrows runs R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations, where he does a lot of marketing and advertising promotional work with car dealerships. For him and his clients, putting a fun twist on events and holidays has proven to drive foot traffic to the showrooms.

For Father’s Day, for example, a San Jose, Calif.-based Dodge dealership hosted an ugly tie contest. Customers would bring in their ugliest tie which were then judged in-store, the winner receiving anywhere up to $500 in cash prizes. “The promotion was always a lot of fun, and it generated some good publicity, too,” says Barrow.

And on Halloween, the dealership put a spin on your standard costume contest and gave away a free car. They challenged shoppers to come to the dealership dressed as certain characters, the first five of each costume to receive prizes ranging from $5 to $20. They posted pictures of the participants in the showroom, where they hosted a drawing for the “Win the Pumpkin Car” raffle. The dealership painted a used car orange and gave it away free to one lucky winner.

9. Celebrate small milestones

The idea for this unique sales promo is rather broad, but it’s still relevant: The smallest milestones and events that happen at your store can be cause for celebration with a sale. Let’s explain this through a few hypotheticals:

  • You have a sales associate hitting their 10-year anniversary of employment — that’s a lifetime for hourly retail workers. To celebrate their dedication to your company, run a promotion where you discount their favorite product by 10% for the entire month.
  • You’ve recently upgraded your POS, and one new feature that you’re excited about is email receipts. Why not celebrate this upgrade with your customer base? For everyone who opts for an email receipt, they can get a discount or free gift.
  • Your local area is just getting through the rainy season, and sunshine is in the forecast for Friday. Welcome the sun and shoppers with a sales promotion to celebrate. Serve lemonade to in-store shoppers and discount sunglasses and sunscreen.

10. Scavenger hunt

In-store scavenger hunts are unique sales promo ideas that leverage gamification to encourage engagement with shoppers. Scavenger hunts can be executed in a variety of ways, ranging in degrees of complexity. And despite what you think, this tactic isn’t just for children’s stores.

Bloomingdale’s is one example of a retailer that has used scavenger hunts to drive in-store traffic and sales. Integrating social media, in-store associates and products into the experience, shoppers learned more about the brand and its story.

11. Exclusive sales

Everyone loves exclusivity. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a select group that has access to things that others don’t? When you host exclusive sales promotions, you make those customers feel special and valued. For example, REI’s Garage Sale that we mentioned before is only open to their customer loyalty program members. It’s one of the perks that members have come to love.

But exclusive sales also allows you to target and personalize your promotions to the group’s characteristics and interests. 64% of consumers want personalized offers from retailers, according to Salesforce, so it’s definitely worth experimenting.

You don’t need a customer loyalty program to run exclusive sales promotions either. Maybe you open your sale to a local group or organization. For instance, if you sell sports goods, perhaps you run a promotion for anyone who plays in the local soccer league. You can also get some cross-promotion from your partner organization, who can spread the word about your store to the members of their community.


Though these unique sales promotion ideas are vastly different, they have on key component in common: They add value to the customer. Whether through a monetary discount, free gift, enhanced experience or something else, the most effective promotions are the ones that provide added value.

Which unique sales promotions have you tried in your store? What worked and what didn’t work?