Be Smart With Coupon Offers

Do you use coupons? I use the ones that are easy on me, like these from Ace. I get them through snail-mail about once a month.

Ace coupons are easy to use within a generous timeframe.
Ace is the place for coupons!

Coupon fans run the gamut from those who check out the coupons from those mailer packets to those with apps on their smartphones and save tens, if not hundreds, of dollars, when they shop.

I once worked at Target and was truly wowed by people who showed up with handfuls of clipped coupons from the Sunday paper. Once, I rang up a couple who saved over $300! I was truly awed although the managers were visibly annoyed.

Coupons endure for merchants and customers. Smart merchants will target (no pun intended) coupons to people who regularly use them and sweeten the deal by making them easy to redeem.

Is Your Coupon Really Special?

A few years ago, a friend in New York put me in stitches with a coupon story.

She went to a neighborhood bakery to order a birthday cake for her eight-year-old son. Upon picking up the cake, she discovered her son’s name was misspelled.

His name isn’t all that unusual. She has excellent handwriting. There’s just no way that someone can read the name “Seth” spelled out in block letters as “Sith.”

I should mention this was around the time a Star Wars movie came out. It introduced us to the Sith, who are not nice beings.

“Velerie” asked to speak with the bakery manager, who was a little embarrassed about the misspelling. She managed to change it without mangling the cake decoration.

She also gave my friend a mini-quiche for her trouble and added her name to a “special” email list where she would receive offers for free samples from several “nearby” establishments.

If you live in New York, nearby means a short walk, or maybe a quick subway ride. It does not mean the other side of town.

My friend lives uptown, near Columbia University, but some of the offers came from stores all the way down town, like in SoHo. The only actual offer in her neighborhood was from the same “bakkery.”

And with one exception, all the “free” samples required a purchase. What’s so special about that?

Don’t Be Stingy With Discounts

One trend I don’t understand is to make customers work for a discount.

In other words, being kind of stingy with coupons. I see this in grocery store brands that offer discounts if  you buy four or five of their products to get the discount.

I certainly understand the idea of brand loyalty. People will be loyal to brands that have products directly related to one another.

For example, iPhone owners will buy an Apple watch. And if you’ve had good luck with a particular brand like KitchenAid, you’ll probably buy another KitchenAid device rather than a Cuisinart.

I’m not so sure this carries over in the grocery store, though. When I jot down that we need ketchup, I already know I want ketchup that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup. Only a few brands offer this, and they raise their prices to leave out this totally unnecessary ingredient.

A coupon should be easy to use and not require customers to work for it.
This coupon requires customers to work for it.

But why make me buy four more Heinz products to get the discount? Honestly, I’d have to think about other products Heinz makes and whether I need them right now.

Coupons that at least tell you what the manufacturer offers are a little more helpful, like this “non-redeemable” one. It also requires careful date-tracking, making you work twice as hard for a few bucks off. I received this coupon about a month before I could even use it.

Don’t Forget to Reward Existing Customers

One of my pet peeves are rewards for new customers only.

My boyfriend recently decided it’s time to upgrade from his iPhone 4 (don’t laugh) for the iPhone 7 after seeing several ads on TV his provider was running for new customers.

He figured that since he’d been with the provider for several years, he would be able to make a deal. But his provider is apparently blind to loyalty.

So he signed up with another provider, paid a bit more to get the 7 plus, and dumped the old provider.

I’ve had a similar experience with my internet provider. I constantly received cards and emails encouraging me to switch to it to get all kinds of cool services for free. I called to get the freebies and was informed these offers are only for new customers.

I pointed out I had been a loyal customer for eight years. The sales associate agreed. I asked if I could cancel right then, and restart the service to get those great deals. Nope; I’d have to go without for at least three months.

Since there’s really only one other ISP in my area, I swallowed my pride and stayed. But, I did call some months later threatening to switch and was able to get basic cable and the Internet for a lower price.

Sometimes, just asking politely works. A while back I noticed an American Express booth at Costco that was giving away really high-quality insulated coffee cups to people who signed up. I immediately wanted one but I already had the Costco AmEx. I explained this to the guy in the booth who shrugged and handed one over.

“You deserve a reward now and then,” he said.

Show Your Customers Genuine Appreciation

You know who your best customers are. Give them rewards they can use.

Here are some ideas I found from Hubspot and Marketing Donut:

  • Reward each purchase. Walgreen’s awards purchase points you later use at the register.
  • Offer cumulative discounts and allow a reasonable time frame to redeem them.
  • If you ship product, ship for free for orders over a certain amount.
  • Partner with nearby businesses that provide complementary services. If you own a pet store, maybe the groomer down the street would consider entering into a loyalty program with you.
  • Offer discounts on special sales days to customers on your email list.
  • Give away a few free items for multiple or high-cost purchases. Make sure the customer can use the giveaway; if not, offer an alternative or raincheck.

I have a friend who buys her makeup at Macy’s. They keep giving makeup samples that are obviously not for her skin type. She’s too polite to ask for samples that match her skin. But shouldn’t people who sell makeup give her freebies she can use?

Coupons are a great way to attract and retain customers. But if you make them difficult to use, aren’t particularly useful, or exclude current customers, they’ll get tossed into the email or actual trash. Be nice to y0ur customers and offer them coupons and deals they can use.

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Ruth Ann Monti is a writer for all things webby. She lives in sunny Scottsdale, AZ with her son.