By Barry Blumenfield
Back in the days when pitchmen set up their cases on the street and demonstrated various gadgets, they quickly learned the way to get people to buy was to throw in an additional item free. If you bought a carving knife, they gave you a device that let you squeeze the juice out of an orange. The same pitch still is being used today. That gift is the premium, and it has been used successfully for years to sell every type of good or service.
In today's marketplace, the premium can take many forms. It might be an additional quantity of the product being offered, free shipping or an extra item, like a free calculator. But the way in which the fulfillment of the premium is handled is very important, because it is another touchpoint in the relationship between marketers and their customers.
Some basic fulfillment best practices: A premium should be sent along with the purchased item whenever possible; if the premium is sent separately, the shipment should indicate that it's tied to the product the customer ordered. I've seen numerous instances in which a premium arrived by itself with no documentation, wasting a valuable opportunity to enhance the customer/merchant relationship.
In an ideal scenario, all orders are shipped promptly, with no delays or problems. That would make premium fulfillment (and product fulfillment in general) a simple, straightforward process. However, situations arise that prevent the simple fulfillment of all orders. You should therefore decide in advance how you plan to deal with the various problems that may occur.
While no single rule can be applied across the board, here are some things to consider before making your premium offer:
1. Backorders. It often makes sense to hold the premium until at least one item in the order is available for shipment. As with any backorder delay, the customer should be notified of the holdup and, if possible, that notice should indicate the premium also is being held. But, consider the cost versus the benefit of sending the premium right away to keep the customer happy and reduce the chance of the backorder being cancelled.