An Open Discussion About Sales

An Open Discussion About Sales

Posted by Helen | December 3, 2016 | Industry Chat


It’s always nice when something is on sale, isn’t it? That is, of course, if you haven’t bought it already. Hot on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday craziness, I’d love to have an open discussion about sales. I have been thinking a lot about this lately, and would love to hear your thoughts! 

As a new pattern designer, I wonder whether putting my product on sale is an appropriate way to promote new business. Is it a slap in the face to the people who have kindly paid full price for the pattern before the sale? I can’t help but feel a pang of guilt thinking of those loyal customers who actively sought out my pattern and paid the full cost for it. By lowering that cost arbitrarily, what am I saying about the value of my product? How am I presenting my brand?

I am not saying that sales are bad or wrong. I gleefully took part in the weekend sales and snapped up a few patterns I have been on the fence about for some time. The sale definitely pushed me over the edge. That is the whole point. For the seller, you get people buying who might not have otherwise bought, therefore increased sales. You also get an influx of purchases that can help you push forward with your business, clear out old stock, and generally keep growing.

There are different kinds of products. In the case of limited stock or limited space, I am generally happy to pay more upfront for a guarantee that I will get the product before it sells out or get the ticket before the event fills up. Think of buying a plane ticket, or a sweater from your favourite store. With digital products, however, there is no limitation. There is no maximum occupancy or inventory. If it’s always going to be there, why should it be one price this week and another price the next?

The other thing is, we are creatures of habit, and these recurring sales events must (I assume), in the long run, negatively impact sales in the weeks leading up to the big day. We’ve all heard people say things like ‘I’ll just wait until they have a sale’ or ‘I’m saving up for Black Friday’. Some companies have massive sales so often that it is common knowledge that you don’t buy when things are full price. This is a valid sales strategy and often, the ‘full’ price is artificially inflated to compensate.

This is not exclusively about patterns. This applies to any purchase. Let’s say I buy an e-course to learn how to make a professional video. I pay $90 for the course. The next week, the course on sale for $20. How do I feel? I feel angry, silly, tricked, embarrassed, and certainly not excited about my purchase. I may even subconsciously assume that the course must not be any good and that could impact my decision to purchase from them in the future. Does this foster a relationship of trust and respect between buyer and seller? Arguably, it does not.

Let’s say I (as a seller) never have a sale. This is excluding an initial discount upon product release (because this is the only time when sales don’t impact previous buyers ). I never have a sale and my customers know this. They know that the price I set for my products is fair and they can trust that the price is not going to suddenly drop, making them feel cheated. Does this foster a relationship of trust and respect between buyer and seller? Arguably, it does!

Is there a better way to say thanks? I realize having a sale can benefit your loyal customers too. I own many patterns from designers, but not all of them. When companies I love have a sale, I get to partake by using that discount on something I don’t have already. We all win, right? In some ways, yes, but it doesn’t completely remove the feelings of distrust.

Can we reward our customers in some other way? Something like a free simple pattern or a free e-book or e-course. Nothing extravagant, but something that nobody else has already. Isn’t it better to leave your loyal customers feeling like they got a special, unique, gift than leaving them feeling like they got ripped off?

Am I overthinking this? I have a feeling this will be a polarizing topic, but would love to hear your thoughts. How do sales events make you feel? Are you a buying or a seller? Both? Please give me your two cents in the comments below, or, if you prefer to discuss it privately, shoot me an email!


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I had similar thoughts as I was partaking in our Cyber Monday/Black Friday pattern extravaganza. I had purchased a pattern at a discount and on Black Friday that pattern went on further discount. I was upset I hadn’t waited. On the other hand, I think it makes a lot of sense to discount old stock. Like Grainline didn’t discount her two newest patterns. At a certain point, your customers are just not going to buy that item at full price, the people were interested and wanted to buy that item have already done so. Now you won’t be cannibalizing your own sales and people who may not have been interested at the original price point may actually pick up your product. The people who bought at full price had a year or so to enjoy the product and got instant gratification and probably won’t be thinking “oh, I should have waited a year or two to pick up that pattern”. So that’s what I would do if I was selling patterns.

Hi Suzanne! Thanks for responding. I really like your point about old stock, and if enough time has past I agree that there is not likely to be any hard feelings for most previous customers. I also like your example of Grainline excluding the new patterns, that is an interesting approach. I do think that my reservation is partly coming from a point of view of only having one pattern. If I (hopefully!) have multiple options for people one day, I could have a sale on older designs and have more things to offer to people. I generally don’t feel that hard done by if a pattern goes on sale right after I bought it, because the price difference is pretty minimal. I am glad to hear that others feel this way, too.

Oh I am SO in for this discussion! Not because I have a preference for either side, but because it’s an interesting discussion!
I don’t actually feel upset if I buy something before a predictable sale (like Black Friday), because hey, I could have waited. In theory, buying a pattern full price is saying I value it to be worth that amount, and the price dropping later shouldn’t affect that. Of course, it does…. I do appreciate when people give a heads up on social media before a random sale (like, “It’s my birthday sale!”) because then it feels like a reward for following them, and it stops that feeling of “Why did I pay full price when it’s on half price the next day!”

Hi Gillian! I’m glad you are into it! I have definitely purchased a pattern right before a predictable sale day just because I really wanted to make it right then and there, too! As a huge indie sewing fan, I value the designers work and am happy to pay the cost that they choose for their patterns. This also makes me more supportive and understanding of designers having sales because it helps them to continue to grow their audience and make more patterns! I feel much less warm and fuzzy with larger brands or bigger ticket items though, so I fear that the icky feelings can sometimes simmer below the surface, you know? I love your tip on giving a heads up on an unexpected sale date, that is a nice way to maintain that trust between seller and customer 🙂

My favorite approach is the way one of my favorite designers works: she has a perpetual discount code available to members of her facebook group for a percentage off. Loyal customers still get a discount, you’re never going to get burned missing a sale or wait up until there is one and she is rewarding brand loyalty and creating a massive facebook following.

Which designer is this?

That is a really interesting approach, Shayna! Do you know how she decides who can join the group? Do you have to have made a previous purchase or can people request to join because you like the look of the patterns? I love that this would mean that existing customers always get a deal and never feel cheated, brilliant!

I’m someone who buys patterns, for the most part, as needs arise. I’ve learned from all those Joann’s sales that if I buy 10 Big Four patterns when they’re $3.99, I’m buying patterns without inspiration and I likely won’t use them at all. Ever. I have DRAWERS full of unused patterns (maybe it can even be called a Pattern Stash?), and I still end up buying new patterns when I find an inspiring fabric-pattern combo rather than use one I already have. And I generally end up buying them at full price because I want to move forward while the inspiration is hot.

When I think about how much money I’ve spent on patterns that I’ll never use, just because they were on sale, I realize that it doesn’t make any sense for me to stock up just because it’s a few dollars cheaper at a given time. I’m happy to pay full price when it fills a need for that moment, and if you look at it that way, I’m not paying a premium to be a loyal customer, I’m paying a premium to have access to a pattern when I want it.

Furthermore… I’m also happy to support indie pattern makers! Sure, $10 here and $20 there can quickly add up, especially for patterns that I may only use once or twice. But it’s a value of mine to support creative people, and if the price-point is $15, it’s because that’s how the pattern maker has valued her own time, creativity, and hard work, and if I agree a pattern is worth that price, then I buy it. Looking at it this way, it might even be insulting to a pattern maker to say that their time and work is *not* worth what they claim it is. And hey, as a community I think we all have the same bottom line— to be able to support each other in our sewing and to find ways to sew more and sew smarter, whether that’s with buying patterns or kits, sharing tips and tricks, or cheering each other on.

With that said, I did end up buying a bunch of indie patterns during the holiday sales, since there were a few I, like you said, were on the fence about, or had been eyeing and plotting for for some time. Hopefully I shopped smarter and will end up using them!

Thank you for your considered response, Saki! I have a pattern ‘stash’ myself, and it is probably only about half things I have printed and sewn. I think the temptation is always high when something is on sale, especially if you have admired it previously or were considering it as a possible future project. Whether the ‘future’ ever gets here, well, that is a whole other topic! I agree that the ‘buy when you are ready’ approach is ideal, and makes the most sense. Especially because, in most cases, the patterns aren’t going anywhere! Even if it means paying a few bucks more when the time comes, I think you are smart to recognize that as money well spent.

I also love what you said about being supportive and encouraging of others in this community. I absolutely agree and because I love indie sewing so much, I don’t feel the same icky feelings of being cheated that I have experienced from other, larger brands in the past. I can shrug it off and recognize that designers need to use marketing and sales to drive business so they can keep producing amazing patterns for me to enjoy! I’m glad you feel this way and it encourages me to consider a sale in the future, knowing that our community would support me in that.

I hope you get around to sewing your new patterns sooner rather than later! I bought several myself and am eager to get started 🙂

Thank YOU for putting this question out there! I’m having fun coming back and reading through the responses.
Happy sewing

I hate to spam reply you, but I had two more thoughts after reading through all the responses.

1) if you were to give a freebie pattern, would it be something like a simple free-fit skirt or tank? (I.e., something with more ease and less seams, so less difficult grading.) Because, while I know that simple=/= boring, if I were in your position (and reading through the comments of sewing time = precious time), I’d fear that a pattern like that might not get used much and might get moved to the Pattern Stash. It’d definitely be a nice thought to receive something like that, but I’d be sad as a designer if no one made the “Thank You” gift.
Instead, maybe a pattern add-on would be more appropriate. Then you’re giving your loyal customers thanks by giving them another option for a pattern that they have already purchased. For your Winslow, it might be a pleated skirt option since you’ve already covered all the lengths!

2) you may have mentioned (or at least another commenter did) about how running sales can hurt sales before and after the sale happens (since people will have already purchased a few months worth of patterns). I understand how that would deter someone from running sales. But it seems like most indie Pattern companies ran sales in the last couple of weeks, and in that way, if you don’t run a sale, your future sales might take a hit regardless, as seamstresses might have already spent their “sewing money” elsewhere. And unfortunately it’s hard to compete when you don’t play along with the competition. One positive way of looking at this is that it’s actually kind of similar to an indiegogo or a kickstarter where consumers essentially pay in advance for a product. And if your sales are considerably higher, you do get a push forward into the next project.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks again for running this discussion!

I did buy up big in the black Friday deals because the exchange rate to NZ dollars is terrible for us. Maybe instead of sales a loyalty program would work just as well without anyone feeling devalued or disappointed but still offering a little reward for faithful customers

Thanks, Maria! I think a loyalty program is a great idea. I know that some designers have offered promo codes based on purchaser locations in the past, to negate things like poor exchange rates (ours is in the dumps now, too). This is a nice way to be understanding and kind to your international customers!

Good question! As a buyer, during this thanksgiving sale, I did buy a pattern that I had been thinking about and snagged a few craftsy classes on my wish list for quite some time. But I do understand what you mean about buying at a certain price and then the price going way down after I bought it. Maybe there’s another way to give thanks after all. Maybe a new pattern offered for free on its own or with the sale of another pattern. After the thanksgiving sales, it goes as a paid pattern or maybe continue as a free pattern however the seller feels. Heather of closet case files released a free top stitching book for pockets for her subscribers .. I thought that was a beautiful way to say thanks to existing subscribers and also snag new subscribers.

Thanks for commenting, Kay! I noticed that e-booklet from Heather as well, and I thought it was brilliant. Perhaps combining a giveaway like that with a sale can take some of the frustrated feelings away. I also think that giving things away as much as possible to give back to your following/audience is an excellent way to build trust and brand loyalty. Then, when a sale does come and (perhaps) cause feelings of distrust, customers can think back on all the other things they received and decide that it is OK they missed the sale, no hard feelings.

Interesting topic! I may be in the minority here, but personally I don’t have the time or patience to deal with sales. I don’t buy patterns or fabric often, and when I do, it’s for a specific project that I’ve already planned. If I decide I want something, I just buy it. Waiting around for a sale gets in the way of my very limited free time to sew, which is not something I’m willing to deal with. When I’m deciding whether to buy something, the price (whatever it happens to be at that moment) is a factor in my decision. If I decide the product it worth it at that price at that time, I buy it. That’s it!

I love this approach, Carolyn! I must confess I spent a good chunk of a day last weekend perusing all the sales and bought more than I had intended (of course). Perhaps I should take a page from your book and just ignore them, because I am also quite happy to pay the extra few dollars to get it when I need it! Sound advice 🙂

I’m with Carolyn. I wouldn’t buy something just because it’s on sale. Sewing is such a joy in my life and my time is too precious to bother with items I have no interest in making or just a slight interest in making. I’m the same way about fabric for that matter. I’ve learned the hard way with fabric that it’s on sale for a darn good reason. Boy have I made some serious blunders with those rayons that they offer “on special”. I was so disgusted after a couple of runs (even Liberty of London is guilty of this!) with this “sale rayon” I was ready to give up on this fabric altogether. I certainly won’t order it online from anyone ever again.

Some people it’s true might be nudged over the edge to buy patterns they are on the fence about especially from the Big 4 or PDF. I think it’s just fairer and likely more business wise to offer your loyal customers (ie point system) a discount for shopping with you. Simplifabric does this (great CDN fabric company by the way and no I don’t have any reason in the world to peddle their brand other than I love their fabric and the way they do business 🙂 )

I’m suspicious of so-called sales anyway. In the old days (I’m 62 so I’ve seen MANY years of evolving work with sales!) retailers put their regular stocked items on a reduction due to over stocking for a certain season (ie post Christmas) – nowadays junk is imported special for a “false” sale – in other words those items were never intended to be sold for the so called suggested retail price. From Nov – Feb I’m especially cautious and this “Black Friday” falls right in there 🙂

Great topic Helen!! You’ve really stirred the fires with this one 🙂

Thank you, Kathleen! I love that you pointed out your many years of experiencing sales, it certainly does make you as close to an expert as I could get! I have also been ‘got’ many times by discount fabrics, and I always regret it! I also buy way too many remnants that just aren’t big enough to make things with. Note to self: must stop this.

I think you are right to be suspicious. There are even cases where lower quality versions of products (like electronics) are manufactured FOR sale on black Friday or boxing day. Lower the production cost by using poor quality materials in order to sell them at such a mega discount. It all seems quite silly, doesn’t it? Now, this is by no means related to indie patterns, but It does give me pause.

I believe indie pattern designers genuinely want to offer sales to say thanks and spread joy and (yes) increase sales – but only so they can make more patterns that spread joy 🙂 I’m glad to be having an open discussion about it, though, because nobody can read minds and know exactly how their customers feel, right? Thanks for participating!

“Sewing is such a joy in my life and my time is too precious to bother with items I have no interest in making or just a slight interest in making.”

I think you’ve just solved the mystery of the growing Pattern Stash!

Here’s one thought I had… Because there are now so many designers, there are often similar designs. If I’m deciding between two similar designs and one goes on sale, and I know that the other never will, I will be more likely to buy the one on sale, even if I might slightly prefer the non-sale pattern. I really like sales. I also think that people are impatient and if they really want a pattern immediately, they’ll buy it even if it might go on sale in the future. The other thought in favor of sales is that they can encourage someone to try your product who wouldn’t normally be tempted at full price. If your product is good, then you gain a new customer.

Hi Lisa! Thanks for commenting. These are both excellent points, and I love sales too – who doesn’t? It is such a double edged sword, though. I love when I get something on sale, but I also hate when something I just bought drops in price. This is more pertaining to larger ticket items, as I am in agreement about being happy to pay the extra few bucks to get patterns when I want them, and I’m not terribly offended if they go on sale the next week. As a new designer, I do really want people to experience my product, so a sale would be a good way to encourage them. I also think, though, that a free product of equal quality would be an even better way to spread the word and gain a potential future new customer.

Ooooo this is a great discussion, and a tough one. Sales mostly only persuade me to buy patterns that I am on the fence about, or to try something new. For example, I’ve had my eye on some Style Arc patterns, but was kind of putting them off until I found the right fabric (or the time to make one up) but I jumped on a couple of the designs I really liked on Black Friday because of the sale. I probably would have bought them eventually anyway, but the sale pushed me over the edge. If there is a pattern out there that I really love and know I’ll make up, I have probably already bought it, either at it’s launch, or as soon as I discovered it, so I guess a sale wouldn’t really impact me. I have a fairly giant pattern stash now, so I’m trying to be thoughtful in my purchases, but I will say seeing something on sale usually motivates me. I do have a wishlist though too, and if I see something on my wishlist go on sale, then it’s hard to say no. Does that make sense? Am I helping here? I’m kind of a magpie, and spend my sewing monthly allowance (my budget) like there’s no tomorrow. Ha ha!

Hi Helen! What a thoughtful post, I did think about it all day after I read it. From the business point of view, I can see it a couple ways. In a lot of ways, sales are great to end the year, so that you have money coming in at the end of 2016 to invest in next year’s ventures. A lot of the indie companies have large over head- employees, studio space, contractors, materials, and the cost to run the online side of the business (keeping a newsletter, maintaining a website and hosting, and all the other services to maintain online presence) really add up when you grow in your business. I can see how those sales help businesses plan for the 2017 offerings and it must be a great way to generate quick cash flow.

However, I have done sales on items and really regretted it in the past. Though I can see how the sale invokes the classic marketing “scarcity” tactic, I think when people have seen you do a sale they know you will do it again, and that’s a hard thing to over come moving forward in the future with your products. It negatively impacted a previous business of mine, and now in my current business, I never discount our in studio classes or lessons. However this year I did offer a sale on an online class to try it- mostly because I’ve been experimenting and trying out new things in my marketing and learning a lot about digital products. But I’m honest about it, it didn’t make me feel good. Putting things on sale doesn’t feel great to me as a business owner, unless its super strategic and you are really considering the costs. When you price a product, you price it according to the value you think it will bring to the life of your customers. Lowering the price and then selling it in some way means that some didn’t think your product was worth that value and that causes me to question and reflect, a lot!

On the other hand, sales do motivate folks who are skeptical to try your product. Last year, I bought my some of my first indie patterns this way, and have been a fan since. And this year, during the end of year sales, I bought a lot of patterns. It wasn’t that I was waiting for a sale, I actually had no idea how big Black Friday is in the sewing world. I had a number of patterns on my list that I was going to try as soon as I found time for each one. I would have paid full price when it came time to work on the project- and I have no problem paying what the designers charge, especially when I consider what I used to spend on clothing! When the sales happened, I was motivated to grab the patterns I had been watching and now I’m pretty much stocked for most of 2017 personal sewing. However, to your point this must hurt sales not just before, but AFTER the sale because even your dedicated customers bought a lot of patterns and won’t need to purchase the first part of the year.

I guess the other issue is, sales aren’t really a thank you to your most dedicated followers, they kind of have the give to get feel, because they are to persuade fence sitters to purchase or fans to get patterns they have been eyeing and just weren’t moving quickly to buy. It is generous on the part of a business, and I’m not critiquing it, but I think your are right about the feelings it brings up. It doesn’t feel as much of a thank you as getting a more personalized thanks for your support! There are other ways to reward your most loyal and dedicated followers that really feel like a personal acknowledgement of appreciation. Hope you get lots more insight from others on this great post- it is something to think deeply about as a person who makes and sells products.

What a great post and discussion! I read most of the comments and they all provide very interesting points. Here are my two cents.
As much as I love sales, I try to be very careful because inevitably I will end up buying more than I need. I usually use it as an opportunity to buy something that I’ve wanted for a while but didn’t get around to getting it yet for whatever reason.
On the other hand, I do not like that aspect of sales that supports overly materialistic culture and mindless consumption. I try my best to stay away from it, even though I don’t always succeed.
In terms of indie pattern designers and small business sewing supply shops, I surely appreciate the sale, but I do not expect it. I am more than happy to pay full price for something that a designer worked really hard to create. As a matter of fact, I will even skip buying a pattern that I know I want to make sometime in the future when it is on sale. I much rather wait till I actually need the pattern and pay full price for it.
I also think that constant sales do make me question the quality of the product and the intent of the brand. Deep discounts that happen often give me an association with “fast fashion”, and it is definitely something I try to stay away from in my sewing and creating.
Also, I do appreciate small special sales/discounts, like Closet Case’s files promotion a while back for 15% off for all Canadians when the Canadian dollar wasn’t doing so good (even though it still isn’t haha) Something like that makes me feel that the designer cares for their customers and appreciates the potential struggles they are facing.
Finally, some pattern companies and small businesses do just one or two sales a year. I do like that too. I like when it is very clear that this is the only sale a company does in a year and this is your chance. Otherwise, it’s quality product at full price.

Well, I like it when a pattern designer offers a new pattern on sale for the first X days. I think it rewards the early buyers for trying something early — especially if the designer doesn’t use a lot of tester photos on their website. It also rewards people who follow your pattern company and trust that things you come out with will fit well both style- and size-wise. But I don’t think that offering a sale at a later time for less than the initial sale price is very nice.

I will buy a pattern I really want to buy regardless if it’s on sale or not if I’m ready to make it now. Otherwise, I usually put it on a pinterest board and when/if I see a designer has a sale, I will go through that board and buy the things I was interested in at a good price. So, sales do push me to buy something I was on the fence about. I bought way too much this past Black Friday but I really cleared a lot of stuff off my Pinterest board.

Helen, I really enjoyed reading the post and the thoughts of the ladies above. I come from a country were sales do not have the impact and power that in other EU countries, US or Canada have, the truth is that until the last couple of years no real sales happened so I never bought anything having that on mind. That being said, my decision on buying or not buying something is based on an equivalent of what is offered and the price it is offered if it happens to be on sales off course it is a plus but I would not wait till it gets on sales either. Buying an item in full price that the next day is on sales is something that I accept since it is my decision not to chase sales oportunities in the first place. What in my opinion would be thoughtfull from the pattern designers is offering to people that have bought their patterns free updates like a different neckline, sleeves, pocket options or even free patterns to their dedicated customers. I really appreciate the way Jennifer Lauren runs her business offering updates of her patterns and even when she released the Afternoon Shift Dress the customers that had bought her Afternoon Blouse could have the dress version for free. As we don’t get to know in person the people behind each pattern company their actions and the way they deal with their customers is the only way to build a loyal relationship.

It’s a fascinating topic! I’ve bought a lot of dresses from eShakti – they used to have constant crazy sales, but at some point they sent out a letter explaining that it wasn’t sustainable and stopped (they moved to a loyalty program instead). I think we as a culture have created this false expectation, so things end up being overpriced because there’s an assumption they’re going to be on sale. And I do think that sales are a good marketing tool, in that it’s a reason to promote your product again. But with independent pattern companies, I’ll likely buy something if I’m interested whether it’s on sale or not (although once I bought a pattern when it was pre-announced to subscribers, and then it went on sale on the official release date – I was annoyed about that). Personally, as a Canadian, I’m more interested in what the shipping cost is. 🙂