Since last November, I've logged 3,492 push notifications from over 100 of the most popular eCommerce apps

If you have an extra phone lying around, logging push notifications is a relatively easy way to get insights into a retailer's messaging and discount strategy.

Nevertheless, not everyone has an extra phone (or several months of time and above average skills with Google Sheets) at their disposal, so I decided to do the legwork for you.

Before we begin, it's worth mentioning that one of the biggest findings I took away from this experiment was how few of these apps actually sent push notifications (an absolutely huge missed opportunity), but what I found in the data from the notifications I did receive was equally as surprising:

Here were my most most interesting findings about the discount strategies used by major retailers:

Overall, of the 3,492 messages logged, 1,132 of them (32.4%) contained a discount percentage

This doesn't count messages that included other offers like "buy one, get one free," which would add an additional 290 messages (8.3%)).

The most common discount percentage offered was 50%.

A 50% discount appeared 157 times (13.9% of all discounts offered). The next most common discount amount was 30% (86 appearances or 7.6% of all discounts observed).

Here were the findings specific to particular retailers:

1. The retailers that built their reputations on being "value-focused" (read: cheap) actually sent the fewest discounts.

As an example, only 2% of Costco messages and 14% of Walmart messages contained discounts, and they offered the lowest average discounts of almost any company we tracked (only 30-40% off, compared to an average of 49.7% off).

Hey, I never said that they were good. I just said they didn't include a lot of discounts. 😅

It's worth noting that most of Walmart's notifications mention "deals," but they don't explicitly mention any percentages:

2. The biggest "shock discount" brands do offer big discounts...but they do so a lot less frequently than you'd think

...the discounts likely just stick in your mind more.

Temu and SHEIN offer the highest discounts (90% and 76%, respectively), but they actually don't send a lot of discount messages (only 22% and 14% of their total messages, compared to an average of 39%).

Instead of discounts, most Temu messages, like their ads, had product recommendations via pictures and had copy focused on FOMO (e.g. "Well, well, well. Look who's back? But be quick, they're selling out fast and we don't want you to be disappointed.")

As opposed to sending discounts, most SHEIN messages contained product recommendations, even if they didn't always make sense:

Notice that these notifications aren't "perfect"...or even that good:

  • All of the names (except for the first one) are truncated.
  • I'm pretty sure the first notification is asking me to wear a cleaning cloth.
  • The second notification is offering me women's leg warmers (I'm not a woman).
  • You shouldn't grab a "hot stainless steel handle" no matter what that third notification is telling you.

Even though their recommendations may not be perfect, it's hard to deny that product recommendations are a key element to the messaging strategy for the fastest-growing eCommerce apps.

3. The brands that send the most discounts overall aren't those with the most or least revenue...They're the ones in the desperate middle

Examples of these brands include Kohl's (87% of messages contained discounts), DICK'S Sporting Goods (73% of messages contained discounts), and Macy's (71% of messages received contained discounts)).

Seriously, can you imagine being the Dick's Sporting Goods copywriter?

Will sending discount after discount help these companies break into the top?!

Of course not.

...but it sure doesn't stop them from trying, does it?

What are the takeaways?

Well, if you're a shopper, watch your perceptions.

Companies who offer bigger discounts less frequently might be tricking you into thinking you're getting a better value overall.

If you're a brand, the way you run your discounting strategy (if you have one) tells me a lot about where you will land compared to your competition.

  • The biggest brands don't offer specific discount percentages — or have much specificity in their messages at all for that matter — but they also don't have to. They already have an established name and brand.
  • The companies offering the most discounts are those in the desperate middle, and this strategy is unlikely to make that big of a difference.
  • The fastest-growing companies aren't relying on discounts as much as they're focused on solid recommendation strategies.

If you'd like to review the data yourself, please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, and I can send you a copy of my data.
Want to know which discount percentage is the most effective at driving sales? We wrote about that too.