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Effective Loss Leader Pricing for Your Online Store

In the world of retail and e-commerce, strategies to attract customers and boost sales are numerous. Among them, the loss leader pricing strategy has proven to be a powerful tool. This approach involves selling a product or service at a price that may not be profitable, with the aim of attracting customers and promoting the sale of other items. Even though this strategy is widely present in physical stores, e-commerce businesses are not using it as often. In this article we will go into the concept of loss leader pricing, its benefits, potential pitfalls, and real-world applications, providing valuable insights for online business owners and decision-makers.

What is a Loss Leader Strategy?

A loss leader strategy is a business technique where a product or service is offered at a price that is not profitable, or even below its cost, with the intention of attracting customers. This strategy is frequently used when businesses are new to a market, aiming to gain a foothold and establish their presence. The lost profits on the loss leader are expected to be offset by the subsequent sales of other products or services, which are sold at regular or even inflated prices.

Historically, this strategy has been employed by various businesses across industries. For instance, in the grocery store business, items like meat, eggs, bread, and milk are often used as loss leaders. The rationale behind choosing these items lies in their popularity, essential nature, and the public knowledge of their typical costs.

The Benefits of Using a Loss Leader Strategy

The use of a loss leader strategy can yield several benefits for businesses, including the following:

Increase in Overall Sales

The primary aim of a loss leader pricing strategy is to increase foot traffic or online visits by offering irresistible deals on certain items. This influx of customers, in turn, often leads to an increase in the overall sales of the store, thereby offsetting the losses incurred on the loss leader.

Clearing Out Old or Outdated Stock

Another advantage of this strategy is that it can be used to sell old or outdated stock. By offering these items at a significantly reduced price, businesses can quickly clear out their inventory, freeing up capital and making room for new stock.

Identifying a Loss Leader: How and Why?

A loss leader is typically a product or service that is offered below its minimum profit margin, but not necessarily below its actual cost. The intent behind this strategy is not to make a profit from the loss leader itself, but rather to use it as a bait to promote subsequent sales of other products or services.

However, it’s crucial to understand that not every discounted or sale item can be classified as a loss leader. The main distinguishing feature of a loss leader is that it’s priced so attractively that it lures customers into the store or onto the website, where they are likely to make additional purchases.

How to Introduce Loss Leaders on Your Site

Here are 5 ideas of how you can introduce loss leaders in your line of products or SKUs.

Flash Sale Alerts: Ever thought of hosting a limited-time flash sale on popular items? This way, shoppers will rush to grab the deal and likely explore more of your store.

Bundle Bargains: Why not pair your best-selling item with a newer product at a special price? When customers see value in the bundle, they’re often tempted to click “add to cart.”

Seasonal Specials: Seasons change, and so do styles! Offer seasonal items at a discount early in the season. While they’re there for the deal, they might pick up some full-priced items too.

Sample or Trial Size: Offer smaller, sample-sized versions of your products at a low price. Once customers fall in love with the sample, they’ll be back for the full-sized version.

First-Time Shopper Deals: First impressions last. Give first-time visitors a special deal on select products. They’ll not only appreciate the warm welcome but might browse and buy more.

It’s all about giving your customers a reason to stick around and discover all the amazing products you have to offer.

Real-Life Example for an E-commerce Site

There is nothing better than visualizing a real-life example. It comes from one of the sites that we optimized for SEO.

A startup ecommerce that sells country-style clothes to women was looking for ways to differentiate themselves in a crowded market and attract a loyal customer base. They needed an original strategy to entice new visitors to not only make an initial purchase but to return and shop again.

What’s their original approach?

Instead of the traditional method of simply reducing prices on select items, our client introduced their “Surprise Boxes”. For a nominal fee, customers could purchase a mystery box filled with trendy items. The catch? While the contents of the box far exceeded the price paid, customers couldn’t choose specific items in it. The box would contain a mix of bestsellers, new arrivals, and accessories.

The idea behind this was two-fold:

  1. The element of surprise would create anticipation and excitement among shoppers.
  2. By filling the boxes with a mix of items, customers would be exposed to different products they might not have picked out for themselves.

How was it all done?

Our client promoted their “Surprise Boxes” heavily through their social media channels and email marketing campaigns. They also added an option for customers to specify their style preferences to ensure the boxes felt personalized.


As a result, in the first month, there was a 45% increase in sales, with the Surprise Boxes accounting for 60% of total sales. 70% of those who purchased a surprise box returned to the site within two months to make additional purchases, often of items they’d received in their box. Also, customers began sharing unboxing videos on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, giving the website organic promotion and increased brand visibility.

This original take on the loss leader concept proved that sometimes, thinking outside the box (or in this case, inside it!) can lead to unprecedented success. By offering value and a unique shopping experience, they not only boosted sales but also fostered a sense of community and excitement around their brand.

The Other Side of the Coin: Gain Leader

While a loss leader strategy involves selling items below their profit margin, its opposite, the gain leader strategy, involves selling products at a price higher than the market average. The idea here is to exploit the customer’s perception of the product’s value and their willingness to pay a premium price for it. The profits from these gain leaders can then be used to subsidize the losses from the loss leaders.

Potential Pitfalls: The Downsides of Loss Leaders

While the benefits of a loss leader strategy are compelling, it’s also important to be aware of its potential pitfalls:

The Risk of Customers Buying Only the Loss Leader

One of the main risks of this strategy is that customers may choose to buy only the loss leader and not make any additional purchases. This could lead to a situation where the business is selling large quantities of the loss leader at a loss, without making up for it through the sale of other items.

The Potential for Substantial Financial Loss

If not carefully managed, a loss leader strategy can lead to substantial financial loss. For example, if customers start buying the loss leader in large quantities (perhaps to resell it), the business could find itself selling a significant volume of stock at a loss.

Real-World Applications of the Loss Leader Strategy

Several real-world businesses have successfully employed the loss leader strategy. Here are a couple examples:

Costco’s Approach

Big-box retailer Costco often uses loss leaders to drive traffic to their stores. They offer certain items at a significantly reduced price, hoping that customers will also buy more high-priced items during their visit. Plus, remember Costco famous hotdogs priced at $1.50? The price of the Costco hotdog hasn’t changed in decades. That’s a perfect example of loss leader in practice.

Amazon’s Strategy

E-commerce giant Amazon also employs the loss leader pricing strategy. They offer specific products at a reduced price to draw customers, anticipating that they will also make additional profitable purchases while on the site.


We will not deny the fact that implementing a loss leader pricing strategy requires careful planning and strategic thinking. While the potential benefits are significant, the risks can also be substantial. As such, it’s important for online business owners and decision-makers to weigh the pros and cons before deciding to employ this strategy in their respective markets.

In the end, whether or not a loss leader strategy is right for your business will depend on a variety of factors, including your business model, your customer base, and your overall business goals. However, with careful planning and execution, a loss leader strategy can be a powerful tool for increasing sales, attracting new customers, and boosting your business’s bottom line.

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