Everybody loves a bargain, right?
That’s why we artists buy our supply in bulk, so we get those volume discounts. And back in the recession of 2008, all kinds of businesses, desperate for income, offered discounts to their customers.
Should artists offer discounts??
It depends. And mostly it depends on how, when, and why you offer them.
Me? The one and only time I ever offered a discount (during that same recession), it backfired. It turns out the customer asked for one, “just because” they’d read that Macy’s was offering discounts. And it turns out they just “threw it out there”, and would have bought the artwork at full price. IF only I hadn’t been feeling desperate and said, “Sure!” Oy vey.
If you believe that discounts work for you, no argument here. Just some clarity about the downside, and suggestions for actions that might work better.
- Is cheaper always better? If it’s really “all about the price”, then trust me, your potential customer can find something similar for less. And when they do, they won’t be back. The measure of our work is how well-made it is, how much skill goes into it, and how unique it is. The story behind it, YOUR story, your personal vision. If it’s something anyone can make, there’s someone who does/will, and then it really is all about the price. And if you say it’s worth $100, but you’re willing to take $80, then what is it really worth?? Know the value of the work you do.
- Can you afford to offer a discount? When we figure our actual cost in creating a work of art, we think about the cost-of-goods-sold: Our materials, our tools, etc. Most artists also factor in time, which makes sense. Except maybe it takes YOU ten hours to paint that piece, and another artist can do it in two hours. And if that other artist has a long history of followers and sales, maybe they have repeat customers who have truly earned a reward now and then. (More suggestions about this below.) And if they support themselves with their work, have to pay for a studio space, the cost of participating in events, exhibitions, shows, etc. the prices will of course be higher. Take into account the amount of money from sales that you’ll pay income taxes on, too.
- Are your prices already too low? When I first set prices for my work, I wasn’t in any galleries or stores. My prices actually reflected my wholesale price. Once I was represented by galleries, I realized that I would get only 50%-60% of my retail price. So my prices went up. Because….
- Are you respecting your galleries? Galleries are a powerful way to get our work in front of potential customers who can’t come to our studios. This means we have to respect galleries for what they do for us. If we discount prices in our studio, and a gallery finds out, that could be the end of your relationship with them. Galleries, on the other hand, and with your permission, could offer their faithful customers a discount. Some even offer to take it out of their own commission. Make sure you let them know if this is acceptable, and definitely let them know if it isn’t! Even they do take it out of their profit. Again, what’s the message here? “We’re so desperate to sell this artist’s work, we’ll cut our losses!” Ouch.
- Will a discount help me close the sale? Maybe. Tempting, right? Let’s talk about WHO gets a discount first. I would advise not offering one to a new customer. First, it’s not fair to your loyal customers, especially those who have collected your work for years. And yes, they might find out! I’ve found that people who get a bargain love to brag about it. And with social media marketing so popular now, your loyal customer might very well come across that post. The trust and integrity we’ve worked so hard to build is gone in an instant. If anyone deserves a discount, it’s our repeat customers!
- Do discounts work? I believe they can help us make small gains in sales when we are starting out, when all our customers are new. But it kinda goes against what our work stands for: Handmade, artisan-made, implies our work reflects skill, quality, and integrity (ours)–not something you can find at a dollar store, where items are mass-produced, often in countries that don’t pay makers well, and are discounted once the shelves have to be cleared.. Discounts can work against our “brand” as someone who creates a unique body of work.
- But I believe discounts work! Okay. But BE PREPARED. First, before you offer a discount, check with them what they’re looking for. My first (and last) discount, I offered 25%. (I was desperate.) Turns out they were hoping for 10%. Whoops. Second, factor discounts into your pricing. Always make sure you will still make a profit, even with a discount offer. It’s like “free shipping”. It feels less expensive, but you actually factored the shipping cost into your price, right?
- But what about loyal, repeat customers? Two thoughts on that: First, I’ve learned the hard way that even a stated “one-time discount” offer registers as “forever” to our customers. “But last year you gave me a 10% discount!” “Your ad said 25% off!” (Yep, that was 6 months ago…) Instead/second, offer another incentive: If you have prints or cards featuring your work, offer those instead. Or offer smaller work to the purchase that can be added with a discount. (Smaller means a smaller amount of money ceded, or it could be a one-off you are ready to pass on to a worthy person anyway.) Or a coupon for a manageable amount to use on their next purchase. (Again, even a “one-time” coupon will register as “forever.” It’s just a human thing…) Offer a one-off, stand-alone workm a direction you experimented with, but decided not to pursue. For one new collector, I offered to come to their home and talk about the piece for a small gathering of their friends. (It closed the deal, but they didn’t take me up on it.) I have a fellow artist who borrowed my car to deliver larger works to their customers. (Only twice, I have a boxy car, and they came to my rescue several times in difficult situations at my old studio. I’m glad to repay their kindness by helping them offer an incentive to a customer!)
- Is it really about the price? It’s common to assume that when a potential customer is hesitant about purchasing our work, it’s about the price. That’s when some of us jump to a conclusion, and offer a discount. But over the years, I’ve found that isn’t so. If someone is obviously interested in an item, I’ve shared the story, I’ve answered there questions, and they’re still hesitant, I’ve learned to as this simple question: What’s holding you back? Turns out it’s something totally different: “Will it go with the new rug in my living room?” “Can I fit it in my car?” “I want it, but my budget is short this month–will they accept a layaway?” Easy solutions to address!
- How a challenge can work even better than a discount. When someone asks if you can discount a work of art, try this highly effective counteroffer: “No, but if….”
Examples: “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that. This work represents a lot of time, skill, and care. It’s a high-quality piece that will bring you joy for a lifetime, and no one else does anything quite like I do. But if you purchase it today, I’ll give you a free copy of a magazine that did an article on me and this very piece!”
“No, I don’t discount my work. But if you decide to take it today, I’ll be happy to give a free artist presentation to your coworkers/friends and family/favorite club/guild/association.”
“No, this is one of my best pieces, and it’s fairly-priced. But if you take it home today, I’ll hold your credit card information for a week while you decide. If you return it within a week, no charge. And if you don’t return it, I’ll process that charge on (date).” The woman I offered this to? I wrapped it up, gave her all the postcards, story cards, etc. I include with a sale, and gave her the bag. And as she left, she whispered, “I don’t think this is coming back!” It didn’t. (I still waited a week, though!)
For a gallery/store: “No, my prices accurately reflect the value of my work, in time and materials. But if you place your order today, I’ll rearrange my shipping schedule to accomodate your upcoming gallery event.”
The last reason I rarely offer discounts (and usually only on older pieces that have ‘aged out’ of my collection)? Because I felt like I wasn’t respecting my own artwork. If I can’t respect what I do, why do I think others should?
Do you discount your work? How? When? And for whom? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear your strategy!
If you found this article helpful, let me know! And share it with others you think would find it useful, too.