The busiest times of a retailer’s business cycle are usually synonymous with storewide sales and massive discounts. From Black Friday to Prime Day, popular shopping days typically involve low prices and limited time offers. While discounts can increase sales in the short term, they can damage your brand image.

As is true with anything enjoyable in this world, discounts are best in moderation. And implementing “everyday low prices” doesn’t usually fare well for a retailer’s bottom line.

The best way retailers can improve sales isn’t through discounts, and it definitely doesn’t necessarily come from price wars either. Instead, increased sales and profits come from other practices, like branding and merchandising.

And to prove that, there are three (albeit well established) retailers that are experiencing incredible success. While their practices can be difficult to mimic for smaller retailers, they provide admirable lessons for sellers of all sizes.


Target’s future was uncertain during the recession. They were trying (but failing) to compete with Walmart, and consumers were extremely hesitant to spend money.

The reason it failed against Walmart was simple: their target audience was different.

Target decided to take advantage of this, and sparked an epic turnaround that began with the in-store experience. It set up mannequins in stores, developed an app to improve the in-store experience, and partnered up with big designers like Lilly Pulitzer to sell well-made and aesthetically pleasing clothing.

Target is attempting to become a store for consumers to purchase unique merchandise from, instead of just commodity products. And it’s working out really well.

While its Q2 earnings haven’t been released yet, the Q1 2015 earnings boasted some impressive results.  Profits increased by nearly a whole percentage point from 2014 to 30.4%, even though customers are purchasing 3.6% fewer items per trip.

That’s right, Target did not have to resort to severe price cutting to stay competitive. Customers actually paid 5.1% more per trip, showcasing the power of brand value when it comes to purchase decisions.

Customers aren’t always looking for the lowest price. If they were, they’d always shop on Jet or Amazon. But Amazon is not always the low price leader nowadays.


In case you aren’t familiar, Amazon is notorious for sacrificing margins for sales. CEO Jeff Bezos is even quoted saying “Your margin is my opportunity,” when discussing competitors.

Retailers dread competing against the company on price for this reason. This fact also resonates with consumers, as Amazon is now known as the ultimate destination for low prices online.

However, Amazon is not always the low price leader. Products such as televisions are sold at low prices, but cables and other add-ons are priced on the same level or even more than competitors’. Amazon is in an incredible spot right now thanks to its price perception.

The company’s Q2 2015 earnings also indicate their success lies beyond price cuts. It reported a net profit of $92 million, compared to a net loss of $126 million during the same time period last year.

Amazon’s high earnings can be attributed to a couple of things: Prime memberships, cloud hosting, and market expansion to name a few.

And while the Prime Day was a massive success in terms of sales, it occurred in Q3. This could mean that Q3 earnings will accelerate their already impressive profit growth. But it’s going to take more than discounts to improve another retailer’s sales volume.


Macy’s is a retailer that will be attempting what Target previously succeeded in: adding a higher caliber of products. The retailer is in the middle of the proverbial “road” in retail.

It isn’t as high end as Neiman Marcus, but it is still losing sales to discount outlets such as Nordstrom Rack. Luckily, Macy’s has a plan to appease both sides.

The strategy involves moving clearance areas out of main department stores, and replacing them with more upscale merchandise. Macy’s also wants to hire more knowledgeable, helpful staff to improve the overall shopping experience.

But what will it do with the clearance sections? Macy’s plan to launch a new outlet chain to compete with the likes of Nordstrom Rack.

The changes will first occur in the top 30 performing stores throughout the US just in time for the holiday season. This strategy hasn’t been fully implemented yet, but it will be interesting to see how it can draw more consumers in with their two-fold brand image.

Branding can seriously make or break your business. It’s better to use your brand to warrant higher prices instead of diluting it with constant sales.

While discounts can draw big crowds to your store or site, a strong brand identity can improve your pricing strategies and sales in the long run.

For example, a simple redesign of your website can make you appear to be more hip and up to date than your competitors. Businesses such as Shopify and Squarespace can give you the ability to customize your storefront. And once you have a sleek and modern layout, A/B test it to make sure it’s optimized for browsing.

Offering live chat can also improve your company’s brand. It makes you look more informed and accommodating, instilling trust in the consumer about your brand. Live chat can answer any questions about a certain product, and is about as useful as having a salesperson directly in front of you.

Not all retailers have the resources of these giant retailers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start small. If you notice a dip in sales, a price cut can help, but you shouldn’t rely on it over time.  Instead, you should take a step back and observe if there’s a bigger problem.

That includes listening to what your target audience wants, changing your store to cater to them, and taking further action on the change’s results.