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.