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Coupons and voucher codes can be an effective acquisition and marketing tool, especially in the current economic climate, but are there drawbacks for retailers in terms of abandonment rates?

In a recent US cart abandonment survey, 27% of consumers said they had left the purchase process to look for coupons elsewhere. The survey did not make this point clear, but it's likely that many were prompted to search for discounts after seeing the promotional code box during the checkout process.

Many online retailers now have coupon code boxes built into their checkout processes, and just seeing the box can be enough to get customers wondering whether they may be missing out on a better deal.

Borders voucher code box

This prompts the shopper to go back to the search engines to look for codes, which is something that carries a serious risk: what if they see codes for the same item on other retailers' sites and decide to shop elsewhere?

Customers shopping at M&S will see this promotional code box a couple of steps into their checkout process, a stage at which they should be fully committed to the purchase, but the question: 'Do you have a promotion?' may make them think twice.

In this case, there are no voucher codes for the LCD TV I added to my basket, but by searching I may be able to find a better deal at another retailer.

M&S promotional code box

So is this discount box costing online retailers in terms of lost sales, and how can they handle this? Here are a few ideas...

Make the discount box less visible
People who already have discount codes will be looking for the box anyway, so placing it below the fold or some other less prominent position on the page will make it less likely that customers without codes will notice it.In the case of M&S, this box is below the fold, but shoppers have to scroll down past it to reach the 'continue' button.

There are potential drawbacks here in terms of lost sales from people with coupons though.

Use of language
This blog suggests that the use of language can make it less likely that a customer will search elsewhere for a coupon. Using the phrase 'Enter a voucher code (if any)' implies that these codes are scarce, and that there may not be one available for the product.

Don't have a voucher code box
Etailers should balance the benefits of voucher codes against the drawbacks. While they can drive increased sales and customer acquisition, some brands may be concerned about being perceived as a discount retailer, while if these boxes are having a negative effect on abandonment rates, they may not be worth the effort.

Retailers offering voucher codes need to make sure that this strategy fits in with their overall business plan and margins to ensure they don’t make negative returns.

Only show the box to customers who have a discount code
This suggestion comes from the GetElastic blog, and could solve the problem. By tracking the customer from an affiliate link via, sites can ensure that the discount box is shown only to these customers. Alternatively, using the URL, discounts could automatically be applied to these visitors, which eliminates the need for the box altogether.

Place a discount code next to the box
One idea from ProImpact7.com is to place a code next to the box to prevent customers from leaving the site, suggesting that 5% should do the trick. Another solution from the same blog is to invite customers to sign up to emails to receive offers.

This way, retailers can add to their mailing lists and keep customers on the site at the same time, though emails with the relevant codes will need to be sent quickly enough to make the customer's effort worthwhile.

Graham Charlton

Published 8 July, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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Greg Power

Or, better still...

Have a small "how do I get one of these?" links next to the voucher box. Then when it's hovered over, it displays a tooltip saying something like "sign up for the newsletter for exclusive deals and voucher codes".

Less cart abandonment + more signups.

over 7 years ago



Oops, didn't spot that proimpact7 had suggested that already. Must've been on the OfficeMax site where I'd seen it.

over 7 years ago


Fadi Shuman, Co-Founder at BORNSmall Business Multi-user

Good post. We've been experimenting with different mechanisms but had not tried the 'subscribe to get a code' idea.

over 7 years ago


Craig Sullivan, Customer Experience Manager at Belron International

There is one further method not mentioned here.

That is to have a dynamic form field that only displays if a link saying 'Promotion or gift code?' is clicked.

This works well (I know from experience) as it avoids having the blank space that begs for a code to fill it, yet allows those that possess a code to enter this as part of the process.

Once you click, the form element shows and allows the code to be entered.  My feeling is that you could combine this with some of the other techniques mentioned to reduce abandonment at this key stage.


over 7 years ago



Nice post,

Retailers like online supermarkets would lose business if they removed the voucher codes, many people prefer to visit the supermarket as part of a weekly routine and to pick out the products, but as a number of voucher codes are made available such as at Tesco Voucher Codes the consumer will just jump ship to another supermarket should they choose to stop issuing codes.

over 7 years ago


Discount Mike

I agree that retailers can not ignore vouchers as they would loose business. They could have major discount websites integrated into their website to make sure that visitors do not leave the website.

over 7 years ago


Free discount codes

Interesting post... I've even started noticing that some websites already have a discount code entered into the field; so although it may prevent some users promoting codes for such sites - there is less chance the user leaves the site to seek a better discount.

over 7 years ago

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