Coupons are commonplace for businesses, but they’re not always done right. You have to think long and hard before you broadcast sales or savings to customers; otherwise, you could end up losing money and a whole lot of credibility.

How do I know this? Read on.

Here’s a big shocker for anyone who knows about my shoe obsession: I used to work at Shoe Carnival. The job was as ridiculous as the name implies. One day after Thanksgiving, the place was predictably a…well, carnival. People were packed to the rafters starting at 6:00 AM using their “Buy One Pair of Shoes, Get Another Pair Free” coupons, which expired at noon that same day. While manning the cash register at 12:00 PM, I was a firsthand witness to the carnage and outrage created by a midday-expiration coupon.

Not only did those crazy coupons expire at noon, but the registers were programmed to lock them out after that exact time. So, the solid 50-plus people who were in line before noon but didn’t check out until after noon practically revolted. Shoes were left on the floor right where people stood. Managers frantically tried to calm customers down. Nothing could be done to calm the angered masses. It was probably an hour before things got back to normal.

This was the first “don’t” on my list, and it’s a prime example of how NOT to extend coupons to your customers. Coupons that expire in the middle of the day are never a good idea!

Here are four more dos and don’ts you’ll want to consider:

  • DO – Get your coupons to your customers in an appropriate amount of time. If I receive a coupon in the mail for a two-week sale that has only one week left, I’m not even going to bother. On the flipside, if I get it too early before the sale, I’ll most likely forget. Timing is everything.
  • DON’T – Exclude everything you sell from the coupon. Guitar Center sends out frequent 10% off coupons…that are good for virtually nothing in the store. It’s not good for the guitars, amps, drums, or basically anything name brand. Why even bother? As a result, I don’t even look at Guitar Center coupons anymore. Throw your customers a bone!
  • DO – Make the savings worth your customers’ time. A coupon for 25-cent savings off of $20 isn’t going to cut it (I consider this more insulting than anything). If your offer isn’t fair, then it looks like you’re begrudgingly offering a coupon because you feel as if you have to. Don’t be that guy!
  • DON’T – Overload your customer with coupons. For everyone but Bed, Bath, and Beyond (who allows you to combine offers) bombarding someone with coupons is a surefire way to lose the “specialness” of the offer. Coupons should make you want to shop somewhere, but if I know I’m getting one coupon after the next, I won’t feel the urgency to shop, and most likely forget all together.

So there you have it. These guidelines are what I feel coupons could and should be. Coupon creation takes a lot of precision that some businesses just don’t seem to have! First and foremost, you have to put yourself in your customers’ shoes before implementing a new offer. If you wouldn’t be spurred to action by the terms and conditions of your coupon, then perhaps it’s time for a few tweaks.

I love using coupons in the right situations. I won’t walk into a Bed, Bath, and Beyond without a stack of them. I just wish all companies could be generous with their offers instead of using sly marketing tricks all the time…

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