The word incentivize is actually about a decade younger than me, although its close synonym — to reward — dates back to the early 14th century.  Clearly providing an incentive for somewhat to take action is not a new concept, and it has of course endured for all this time because it works.

I recently mentioned that I hadn’t had any luck getting readers of the new edition of Specialty Shop Retailing to write a review on Amazon. This was not really surprising, since the book is aimed at independent retailers who don’t like Amazon, which poses a real threat to their business. But the lack of a single Amazon review or rating made it look like the book didn’t exist.  And I know that even those who have no intention of buying a product from Amazon will still look there for reviews.

At a recent meeting with the husband and wife marketing duo Andrew and Gracie Foxwell, they asked whether I had incentivized my request for reviews, which got me thinking about what kind of incentive would motivate someone to help me solve this dilemma.  I came up with the idea of offering to donate a Kiva gift card in honor of each review, so that whoever took the time to write one would not only be helping retailers find out about the expanded and updated edition of the book, but they’d also be helping a small business owner somewhere else in the world with a micro loan.

I sent out 150 requests (some of you may have received one), and almost immediately got three five-star reviews. I happily made the promised donation to Kiva, and am pleased to know that when these micro loans are repaid, the retailers who helped me out with a review will be able to re-loan the money over and over again. If you don’t know about Kiva’s program, please check it out. My offer still stands!

The word reward of course can refer to giving compensation, and you don’t want to pay someone to write a positive review for your book — or store. But there is nothing wrong with thinking of creative ways to encourage your customers to voluntarily help your business in some way.  You could make a donation to a favorite charity, offer a gift card to a neighboring business, or — to use another recent word — gamify the request so that participating makes the person eligible for the chance to win a prize. (Just make sure that you are following the rules for contests on whatever platform you are using.) Test your incentive to see if it works, and change your offer until you find one that does the trick.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder