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If you've ever purchased something online, you've probably come across an almost ubiquitous feature on many order forms: the coupon code field.

Online sellers, of course, use coupon codes in an effort to boost sales, increase AOVs and reward loyal customers. But according to web consultant Rachel Baker, these innocuous fields may be doing more harm than good.

In a post on her blog, Baker describes the experience of noticing a coupon code field on an order form and scrambling to find a coupon code. The frantic search distracts her so much that a meeting and browser crash delay her order. Finally, hours later, she completes a purchase sans coupon code. Even after the purchase is completed, she has a bout of buyer's remorse because she lacked a coupon code to enter into that coupon code field.

Her conclusion:

Do not show the Coupon code field unless you absolutely need to do so. When sending marketing and promotional materials, send them to a different version of your payment page that reflects the discount you are offering. Having the same payment page for your discounted and full price purchases just invites Google searches for “(app name) coupon code” and resulting abandoned cart.

Is this sound advice?

For businesses that use coupon codes on a regular basis, the answer is probably 'no.' In these cases, getting rid of the coupon code field is not realistic. For other businesses that use coupon codes less frequently, however, the answer is debatable.

The Pros of the Coupon Code Field

Coupon codes are for many online businesses a highly effective sales and marketing tool. Executed well, a couponing strategy can boost the top line and the bottom line.

For obvious reasons, the coupon code field is one of the most effective ways to allow customers to apply a coupon to a purchase. Yes, there are other ways to allow customers to receive discounts on their orders (eg. alternate links that lead to alternate versions of pages, etc.), but generally speaking the coupon code field is the simplest and minimizes the risk of confusion or technical problems.

The Cons of the Coupon Code Field

As Baker notes in her post, some potential customers may hesitate to complete a purchase when they see a coupon code field. "Could I be saving money?" they ask themselves. If they're unable to find a working coupon code, some may fail to complete a purchase altogether.

What percentage of potential customers falls into this category will, of course, vary. In some markets, customers are far more price sensitive and likely to be swayed by a bargain (or lack thereof) than others.

The Solutions

To use the coupon code field or not? Two two common sense approaches that can help address the dilemma:

  • A/B test. Is the coupon code field leading potential customers to abandon their purchases? Don't make assumptions -- find out using A/B testing. If the conversions for an order form that includes a coupon code field are much lower than one that doesn't, that would provide real justification for the possible removal of the coupon code field.
  • Always have a coupon code or two in circulation. If you're afraid that potential customers will hesitate if they can't find a coupon code, consider trying some marketing trickery: always make sure you have one or two in circulation. They don't have to provide for substantial discounts, and they may be restricted to a subset of products or order types. But even so, their availability could help convince doubters that they're not missing out.
Patricio Robles

Published 5 August, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2378 more posts from this author

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Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey, Commercial Director at Performance Horizon Group Ltd

What about dynamically inserting a coupon code box based on the source of the traffic? If the user has come from a coupon affiliate or a targeted email including a coupon, then display the box.

However, if the user has come through organic means and is not anticipating using a coupon, then hide it somewhere?

almost 5 years ago

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Greg Power

They're definitely a double-eged sword. If you get into a habit of using them, customers certainly start to expect them and in my experience will hold out until they receive. You only have to type [brandname] into Google to see the suggestions are dominated by coupon code, voucher code and similar permutations.

I think there's two solutions here, one of which I'm currently using and another I plan on doing so soon.

1) Rename the box to 'Gift Certificate'. This is the method I currently use and my reasoning behind it is that if it sounds like a paid for code, it acts as a deterrent to customers thinking of searching for one and potentially abandoning their purchase. More on that here: http://www.getelastic.com/coupon-poaching/

2) Host a page on your site called '[brand name] voucher code' - and keep it updated whether you've got codes running or not. That way I suppose you'll pay less to voucher / affiliate sites if they're coming directly to your site. In addition, if you simply say 'sorry, we aren't running any codes at the moment' that may well act as a deterrent to your more frugal customers.

almost 5 years ago

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Chris Myhill

We have just come out of a similar discussion with a client during a conversion optimisation review of their checkout. They were displaying a very prominent ‘coupon code’ field within their checkout, however the organisation has yet to ever make coupons available to the public; they instead send them in promotional e-mails to customers on their mailing list.

One of our suggestions was (as matt has pointed out above) to use a URL parameter allowing only users who have come from the promotional e-mail to see the ‘coupon code’ module.

Of course, this raises some separate issues about how we make it clear to users in the e-mail that they must use the link in said e-mail to use their coupon :-)

almost 5 years ago

Sarah McNaughton

Sarah McNaughton, eMarketing and Communications Officer at Team Fostering

Great post. I know as a consumer, as soon as I see a voucher code box I am driven to Google to search for the retailers name along with 'voucher code' in search of some sort of discount on my purchase.

It's also interesting to see that it can lead to a checkout abandonment simply because the customer failed to find a discount code so almost feels cheated if they complete the purchase.

I work for SaleCycle www.salecycle.com and our Campaign Managers are recommending to clients that they include any qualifying discounts or promotions within their recovery emails to drive the customer back to the checkout to complete. For example a client of ours is currently in the process of including a 'Free Delivery' message in their recovery emails when the order is over £70 in line with a promotion they have running currently. Something that we are sure will appeal to those who felt 'cheated' when they abandoned.

almost 5 years ago

Hero Grigoraki

Hero Grigoraki, Head of Media Product at lastminute.com

I find discussions on whether to display voucher prompts at checkout quite misguided, especially when the advice pops up to only display it for specific sources. Solely because that's only applicable to retailers who do not have any offline operations or traditional marketing.

As a customer who's found a code offline, I'll be pretty annoyed if I go directly to the retailer and the voucher box is nowhere to be found.

almost 5 years ago

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Rory Yates

I agree with Matt. Taking this approach perhaps further, just auto-recognise the associated discount in the messaging on the arrival page and throughout the purchase process and they won't even have to type in / recognise a code.

almost 5 years ago

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Michael Griffin

Great article. I often advise customers to use wording like "Enter Gift Certificate or Voucher Code". This helps limit the number of people that will leave the site to find a coupon. Greg's suggestions above are right on.

The most important issue to consider is how the search for a coupon will affect the attribution of the order. Most coupon sites, like RetailMeNot, encourage the user to "click" on a coupon to redeem. What they are doing is replacing the cookie driven by other marketing channels with their own. Since they are not driving the conversion, these channels do not deserve credit for the conversion. Solving this issue will go along way to helping retailers allocate marketing dollars to the proper channels.

almost 5 years ago

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Paul Lomax, Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at Dennis Publishing

Have a look at how we achived the best of both worlds on www.jigsaw-online.com

Usability testing showed people stopped to find a coupon when they saw the form field for it. However when we changed it to a link which revealed a form field when clicked, it didn't distract them or act as a prompt to go googling. Those who had a code already were able to find the link without problems. Voila.

almost 5 years ago

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Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital Marketing at Lost My Name

for me it's a certain yes. Usability research I've seen shows a number of issues (ie if present, do I need one? or if missing, where is it?) however with the proliferation of voucher code sites, consumers are being taught to search for codes regardless (even my non-tech savvy father does this before purchasing everywhere) so I'd err on the side of including it, and keeping it simple

At the end of the day you need to weigh up a slight loss of revenue against the loss of a customer.

Completely agree with Greg's approach - as your brand has lots more leverage in the SERPs, having a page dedicated to voucher codes (that you keep refreshed) will at least ensure you're not discounting AND paying affiliates for it. Many voucher code sites profit from brand profligacy with this...

almost 5 years ago

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Manny Coulon, Director at IdeasForTheKids.com

Why not have an instruction on the coupon to add the code as a line item in the basket in order to get the discount? Simple, effective, and eliminates the need for a code box.

almost 5 years ago

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Ben Brabyn

I like Greg's Gift Certificate approach - this suggests additional generosity from the retailer too, and if it reduces uptake by 90% without reducing conversions that has got to be good news.

almost 5 years ago

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Tom W Evans

Another approach (and another link to the GetElastic blog!) is to use it as an opportunity to drive mailing list subscriptions - e.g. http://www.getelastic.com/email-list-%20shopping-cart/

almost 5 years ago

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Barbara

I find majority of the shoppers, quite a lot of them since the recent downturn in economy, to be quite savvy. They already google and search for coupon codes etc... whether you display a coupon code box or not.

Putting it later in the Checkout/payment stream may help but then there is the risk of abandonement at a later stage.

@Greg renaming to Gift Certificate does not work for companies that already have 'true' GCs that customer purchase for one another. Their minds are trained to seperate the two.

almost 5 years ago

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Loren Nally, Owner/Online marketing manager at Dealsformums.co.uk

So here's another take on it. Like Greg above said, having a message that states;

'Sorry, we aren't running any codes at the moment' is not helpful, so turn it to both customer and brand advantage by saying instead;

'Sorry, we aren't running any codes at the moment but why not subscribe to email to be the first to receive codes when we release them'

This will work to give the customer a more positive experience that although they might not have saved this time, they may well next time as they'll hear of codes direct from the brand. And for the brand, they've added to their customer database and can use this data appropriately and to deliver the best codes that will convert this customer in future.

almost 5 years ago

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