Webloyalty / Shopper Discounts right to reply; image thanks to altemark via FlickrEarlier this week on this blog Graham Charlton discussed whether or not retailers should promote third party shopper discount schemes at the end of the checkout process. 

The way this usually works is that you buy something, and after having your order confirmed are invited to accept a ‘£10 off your next purchase’ or similar. The schemes are operated not by the retailers, but by a partner.

Graham bought some train tickets via TheTrainline.com and stumbled across one of these offers at the end of the checkout. He found it confusing, and he’s not alone… many consumers have also complained (‘I was duped’, ‘I’m another victim’, etc).

Naturally the discount scheme operator, Webloyalty, is not thrilled with our coverage, and marketing director Gill Hynes has written in to complain. 

For the purposes of transparency here is Webloyalty’s response in full, replete with clarifications on their sign-up procedure and offer…

I am writing in response to your article published today on the Econsultancy website regarding Webloyalty and one of our clients: thetrainline.com. 

The article you published contains inaccurate information regarding the process by which thetrainline.com customers join the Shopper Discounts & Rewards programme and the information presented on our offer pages to these customers.  I have addressed these inaccuracies below, and therefore request that you either remove this article or publish a corrected version. 

To support this letter I have attached the thetrainline.com offer page (thetrainline.com_offer_page) that you would have seen when you clicked through from the banner on the thetrainline.com’s confirmation page.  I have also attached an example of a non-client specific offer page (example_offer_page) which illustrates very clearly the following:

1. The customer is required to provide credit or debit card details to Shopper Discounts & Rewards. The offer page contains clear, conspicuous and repeated disclosures that notify consumers that they are joining a subscription programme. 

2. The consumer takes 8 affirmative steps to join one of our programmes and we continue to communicate with them about the programme benefits after enroling.

Correction: Customers are required to enter payment details to enrol in Shopper Discounts & Rewards. 

I would specifically like to draw your attention to the fact that the screen grab of thetrainline.com offer page you included in your article does not show steps 1 & 2 of the enrolment process (you have only shown step 3). Had you shown a full screen grab of thetrainline.com offer page it would have been clear to your readers that customers are required to enter their name, address, email (and verify the email address), and enter full credit or debit card details. They are then required to create and verify a password, and click a ‘Yes’ button to confirm they wish to join the programme.  

Correction: The offer page contains clear, conspicuous and repeated disclosures that notify consumers that they are joining a subscription programme.

The terms and conditions of the programme and in particular that the programme will cost the member £10 a month after the initial free trial period is stated in no less than 6 places on the offer page. (See attached example_offer_page on which the price point notification is highlighted) Additionally, the terms of the offer appear in a coloured box, near where the consumer enters his or her personal information in order to join the programme. 

In addition to the offer page, I have also attached for your information the acknowledgement page (thetrainline.com_acknowledgement_page) the customer sees immediately on clicking the ‘Yes’ button, which confirms they have successfully joined the programme, and it also provides information on how to access and make use of the Shopper Discounts & Rewards benefits.  In addition, the acknowledgement page reminds members of the amount they will be billed for after the free trial period and provides the credit or debit card type and last 4 digits of the credit or debit card that will be used for billing.  

Correction: The consumer takes a series of 8 affirmative steps to join one of our programmes and we continue to communicate with them about the programme benefits after enroling.

Webloyalty puts the most significant details of its offers in a prominent location – in the  first two  paragraphs and immediately next to the acceptance (‘Yes’) button – and repeats them in multiple other locations on the offer page. Further, Webloyalty continues to communicate the offer terms to consumers after the enrolment process and before they incur billing.

We send the member 7 emails in the first 30 days of their membership.

1. A welcome email (sent immediately upon enrolment) that highlights programme benefits and provides full offer and billing details. If this first email bounces, we send an offline letter to the member. If the offline letter is returned to us, we cancel the membership. 

2. Another welcome email is also sent that day, which confirms the member has joined and provides a reminder that they are eligible to claim their cash back voucher.

3. Day 1 of membership: an email is sent reminding the member of his or her password.

4. Day 7: An email reminding the member of the benefits of the programme is sent.

5. Day 13: An email reminding the member about their cash back voucher is sent.

6. Day 16: An email reminding the member that the trial period is about to expire and also that his or her credit or debit card will be charged. This email also contains contact information and details of how to cancel should the member wish to. If this email bounces, we send an offline letter to the member. If the offline letter is returned to us, we cancel the membership.

7. Day 30: An email reminding the member of the benefits of the programme is sent.

Regular emails are sent thereafter for as long as the member remains a member.

I would be more than happy to forward you examples of these all of these emails.

We, at Webloyalty, are committed to responsible practices that set an industry standard in client services and marketing. We make every effort to be straightforward with our offers, allowing consumers to make educated choices regarding their decision to join the Shopper Discounts & Rewards membership programme. 

Webloyalty understands that some consumers, regardless of the abundance of clear and conspicuous disclosures, may still complain that they were unaware (or perhaps subsequently forgot) that they had enroled in a membership programme.  To that end, Webloyalty publicises its cancellation policy including, among other places, on its enrolment page and in communications with consumers. 

The information we have provided to you in this letter and the attachments hereto establish that any suggestion contrary to the facts that consumers are required to provide credit and debit card details upon enroling in a Webloyalty programme; that our offer page is clear in its disclosures and that the consumer take a series of affirmative steps to join one of our programmes would be false. We therefore request that you remove or amend your article of 5 February. 

If you have further questions about the materials or want more information about any of these matters, we are happy to discuss this with you in further detail.  We are prepared to spend whatever time is necessary to provide you with accurate information to ensure the article you present is accurate and truthful.

[ends]

Accordingly we have removed a sentence which suggested that Webloyalty hadn’t improved the communication of its offer to customers in the past two years, when – based on the above – it is clear that Webloyalty is adhering to a number of industry best practices.

But the article wasn’t really about Webloyalty’s sign-up procedure. It was about shopper discount schemes more broadly, and where and how they are promoted by retailers.

We simply asked a question: ‘Should e-commerce sites be offering rewards schemes?’

On the basis of anecdotal evidence, notably the hundreds of consumers who have felt misled by these schemes, is might be ill-considered to bastardise your checkout with these sorts of partner offers. 

Then again presumably the numbers add up. The likes of TheTrainline and Interflora must generate enough revenue from Webloyalty to offset the lack of repeat business from unhappy customers, even if those customers are at fault for not reading the terms and conditions in full.

But just as we know that customers skim read T&Cs (when did you last read them, in full?), we also know that they will click on links in the checkout labelled ‘Continue’. It’s very persuasive. We believe that the checkout is sacrosanct and our own best practice guidelines have yet to recommend this sort of thing

We’re living in an age where customer experience and word of mouth is paramount, and it seems to me that this is dangerous game to play. The internet is an echo chamber, and bad noise can travel a long way.

I’d be keen to hear from e-commerce managers that have positive or negative views about these kinds of discount schemes.