Traditionally, advertising with coupons has been an excellent way to capture new customers and retain existing customers. Using the Internet, promoting your business with coupons has become quicker, cheaper and easier than ever before. Unfortunately, Internet coupons for "Brick and Mortar" businesses may have become ineffective and quite possibly have a negative impact on your business if not used properly. The reasons for this are as follows:
1. Printing coupons from the Internet is like printing money, it devalues the coupons for the customer as well as for the merchant.
Coupons really are a form of currency. They are an agreement between the customer and the merchant. The merchant uses the coupon to say, "I will give you a discount or a special deal, and in return you will patronize my business." This is the basic give and take relationship that the coupon establishes and works very well, but only if there is just one coupon at a time.
The problem with most Internet coupons is that they are infinitely redeemable. Most of the time, patrons can print Internet coupons as many times as they want so that they can effectively receive the same discount every time they go to that merchant. If we were all able to print money from our computers in the same way, then our currency would instantaneously lose all of its value. By using printable coupons this way, the customer reduces the value in his or her mind of the products that the coupon applies to and therefore the coupons themselves. The merchant on the other hand must devalue the coupon similarly since it is no longer effective in creating a "give and take" relationship but rather just permanently discounts their products or services.
2. Having coupons always available further devalues them. If they are always there for the taking, then there is no urgency to go get them.
Similar to the point above, having a coupon always available to print off or redeem has the same effect as printing off hundreds of copies. Traditional print coupons have always been distributed periodically in a newspaper, magazine, postal mail, etc. This meant that you were only going to receive one and only one of those coupons until the next periodical was distributed. Therefore, if you had any sort of interest in possibly using that coupon in the future, then you would cut out the coupon at that moment and be ready to use it. With Internet coupons, knowing that you can always revisit a website and print off a coupon whenever the need arises has the effect of also making the coupon worthless. This is because, (a) most will forget that they ever saw the coupon and will therefore never go back to print it off and (b) most importantly, the coupon loses its promotional value of trying to get someone to take action now.
3. Most coupons on the Internet are on a "pull" model instead of a "push" model.
When customers have to go out and get coupons, instead of the coupons being "pushed" out to the customer, then they only get used by the true coupon frugal fanatics and not by first time customers or customers who have forgotten about you. Again, traditional coupons have always been sent "pushed" out to prospective customers and therefore acted as a great way to proactively promote businesses.
Also, Internet coupons on a "pull" model, where customers must visit a coupon website and see what coupons are available, have no market testing value. One of the greatest advantages of marketing with coupons since they were first studied by Claude Hopkins in the early 20th century, was to be able to scientifically test marketing messages by "pushing" out the coupons and then tracking the ones that came back to you. Although this could still theoretically be done in a "pull" type scenario, the benefit of the "push" test system is that you could send out your message to a specific number of recipients within a specific time period and then receive back a specific statistical sample to draw conclusions from.
The Right Way to Use Internet Printable Coupons
The solution to "The Problem with Online Coupons" is to use the Internet to distribute your coupons while eliminating the issues stated above.
First, use an email marketing solution. Sending coupons in email solves the "push vs. pull" problem by delivering coupons to specific group of people who have opted-in to receiving updates and specials from your business. Sending coupons via email also solves the problem of having coupons always available. Email allows businesses to mimic and even surpass the benefits of traditional print periodicals. Businesses can test to find the ideal sending frequency that keeps their business in the forefront of their customer's minds while also maintaining a sense of urgency and timeliness. Also, make sure to use expiration dates and/or "print by" dates to further increase the sense of urgency.
Next, incorporate a secure "one-time" printing system for coupon distribution. This will allow each email recipient of your coupons to be able to print them once and only once for each coupon sent. This may seem somewhat trivial or possibly even petty, but the reality is that coupons that can only be used once allows the merchant to be more comfortable with promoting bigger discounts and better deals while at the same time giving the customer higher perceived and actual value of the coupon.
Using these tools will allow you to not only dramatically cut advertising costs compared to traditional print coupon advertising but also allow you to use coupon advertising in the best ways possible. Actively promote your business to new and existing customers while using scientific testing to discover the best possible marketing messages for your business' success. Create a real marketplace for your coupons and their value will increase to everyone who uses them.