Jim Young / Reuters—REUTERS
By Brad Tuttle
November 15, 2016

From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, participating Au Bon Pain locations around the country are giving each customer a free small coffee. Rather than hosting a giveaway on National Coffee Day in late September like so many other coffee shops, Au Bon Pain decided that a Tuesday in mid-November would be the perfect time for its Free Coffee Day.

Why now? Well, Thanksgiving arrives next week, with Black Friday coming a day later, marking the true launch of the holiday shopping season. It’s prime time for consumers to be out and about on the hunt for gifts and deals. And when their energy inevitably flags amid the crowds, confusing promotions, and chilly weather, many are bound to seek a pick-me-up in the form of a steaming hot cup of coffee.

It’s in the interests of coffee sellers like Au Bon Pain, therefore, to get shoppers into the habit of swinging by for snacks and caffeine right now. Hence the main reason why coffee shops are rolling out special deals and discounts in advance of the peak shopping frenzy.

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It’s not just Au Bon Pain. Every afternoon from November 10 to 14, Starbucks offered a buy-one, get-one deal on holiday drinks like the Egg Nog Latte and Peppermint Mocha. The promotion is nearly identical to one Starbucks hosted last year at this time.

Dunkin Donuts, meanwhile, has five days of special discounts for members of its rewards program. The coffee-and-donuts chain’s Perks Week stretches from Monday, November 14, to Friday, November 18, with a different deal each day—a free beverage for using the mobile app on Wednesday, for instance.

The goal of any giveaway is to generate goodwill among guests, with the hope they’ll come back early and often as paying customers. And right now—with the perfect mix of colder weather and huge shopping crowds upon us—is the ideal time for coffee chains to plant this idea in customers’ heads.

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The strategy behind coffee promotions in mid-November is essentially the same as the one used with free ice cream giveaways from the likes of Ben & Jerry’s in the spring, just before summertime’s peak ice cream-eating season arrives. Or, for that matter, it’s directly comparable to Au Bon Pain pouring cool, refreshing free iced coffee and iced tea last April. In all cases, the idea is to give away a free taste of something that the company hopes customers will be happy to pay for over the weeks and months ahead.

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