Are Coupon Code Searches Costing Your Online Store Money?

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Every couple of months, I take an in depth look at the search keywords that people use to arrive at our online store. In addition, I also use keyword tools to see whether people are doing searches for our business directly.

Photo By MissMessie

Much to my surprise, I found that some amount of searches were for the term “Bumblebee Linens coupons” or “hanky coupons bumblebee” etc… I guess it’s only natural that shoppers search for coupons.

But the truth is that we rarely give out coupons yet we prominently display a coupon code field during checkout. The fact that customers are looking for coupons makes me wonder whether they are prematurely exiting the checkout process in search for nonexistant discounts.

Why We Don’t Issue Coupons Very Often

There are different schools of thought when it comes to coupons. Some companies always have coupon codes outstanding as a way to entice customers to shop sooner rather than later.

The problem is that if there are always coupons available, then customers generally won’t buy unless they have an active coupon code. The same theory holds true if your store runs regular sales promotions.

The other reason that we only issue coupons to our best customers is because we believe that issuing mass coupons kind of cheapens the feel of the store.

Since we are in the wedding industry, we definitely don’t want people clipping coupons as a reason to come to our website. We want people to shop because we carry quality products and not because we offer the best bargains.

In addition, our cheapest customers have also traditionally been the hardest to please.

How Do You React To A Coupon Code Field?

I don’t know about you, but whenever I see an empty coupon field while shopping online, I almost always take some time to do a quick coupon search.

And unfortunately, it almost always results in me leaving the ecommerce site for a short period of time.

While searching for coupons, sometimes I find a better deal and never return. Sometimes, I find a coupon code only to discover that it doesn’t work. Sometimes, I waste so much time searching for the coupon that I get fed up and put off the purchase altogether.

The big kicker here is that the coupon code field actually entices a customer to leave your store during a crucial period in which you are trying to close a sale. Whenever a customer leaves your site for any reason, it’s very bad for business.

The Dilemma

Looking at our statistics, 7% of our customers do not successfully complete the checkout process starting from the page that contains the coupon code field.

But to be honest, I’m not 100% positive how many customers actually leave our site to search for coupons during checkout. The only thing I really know is that there are people out there actively searching for coupons for our online wedding linens store and not finding them.

The other thing that is really annoying is that there are a whole bunch of coupon aggregator websites that pop up during a web search that carry bogus coupons.

If you run an online store, try typing in followed by the word coupons and you’ll be shocked by how many bogus coupon code links pop up. It’s no wonder that people get fed up with the whole process.

For us, having the coupon field is useful in order to reward loyal customers but at the same time we don’t want customers leaving our site for any reason and certainly not during checkout.

This presents us an interesting dilemma. How can we give out coupons and discounts without given out coupons?

Possible Solution

One of the solutions that my wife and I came up with was to give out a special ‘verbal’ code and have the customer call in to place their order.

Of course, the downside to this solution is that we would have to take these orders over the phone. This is all fine and good but in general our desire is to reduce the overall number of customer calls.

While this solution would be manageable in the near term, it’s definitely not a scalable solution.

A better solution would be to give out special URLs for the customer to click on to arrive at our site. Then based on a special tracking code, we would automatically issue the discount during checkout.

While this solution is the best one we could come up with, it unfortunately requires me (or a real programmer) to do a bit of web coding to implement it.

Testing, Testing, Testing

In the near term, we are going to do some A/B testing with and without the coupon code field to see if it has any effect. Every store is different and if it turns out that having the coupon code capability doesn’t affect shopping cart abandonment, we may as well just keep it.

The key takeaway here is that the only real way to determine the right thing to do is to perform detailed tests. This particular issue can easily be determined with a few months of simple testing with two near identical web pages.

How Do You React To Coupon Codes?

When you see a place to enter coupons, do you immediately go off and do a coupon search? What is your opinion on what to do with the coupon code box for our online store?

Update: I’ve posted a short follow up to this article. Click on this link to read about my experiment

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25 thoughts on “Are Coupon Code Searches Costing Your Online Store Money?”

  1. Steve, great post. As an on-line shopper, the coupon code field is an automatic reminder for me to search for a discount. I ALWAYS look for coupons.

    Is it possible to issue encrypted, time-sensitive coupons? Like you, I am interested to hear of others’ suggestions.

    Cheers,
    Alexa

    http://alexasamuels.com

    1. @Alexa
      Ack. Yeah, I’m like that too. I wonder how many customers leave the checkout process to look for coupons on our store? It is possible via cookies to issue time sensitive coupons. It shouldn’t be too difficult to implement.

  2. When I am shopping, I do look for coupon codes. 80% of the goods and services I buy are with coupon codes or sales. Even when I was booking a shuttle to take from the airport yesterday online, I did a search for a coupon code and found one.

    You are in a totally different niche than I am for my store. I would say take it out for you since you generally don’t offer codes anyway. I know it would be deadly if I did that for mine because I’m still in the process of building.

    1. @Carla
      I’m considering doing just that actually. Though we do have a set of event planners that we routinely issue coupons to. It would be pain to have to talk to each every one of them each time they wanted to place an order.

      1. Diana says:

        Great Blog! Not sure if you have come up with a solution yet but a possible solution is to create a group on your website for the planners or customers that receive coupons. Then only show the coupon box to that group when they are logged in.

  3. Very interesting indeed! I’d like to know what you find, and if checkout carts allow a URL driven discount code as opposed to always leaving that coupon code hanging. I’m going to dig into Ejunkie and look around right now. I sure know I go to http://www.currentcodes.com each time I checkout somewhere to hunt down some coupons and you’re right, it completely has be second guess my purchase. Very applicable post.

    1. @Robert
      Wow. Thanks. I’d never heard of currentcodes.com before. I’ll have to check it out

      @Sean
      I wish I had someone else’s numbers to compare my 7% to. In my mind, shipping is usually the last barrier to checkout. If they reach the payment phase, the transaction should go through 99% of the time.

  4. If you don’t normally offer the coupon codes, I would just remove that box from your checkout. I think alot of people might be triggered by seeing the box to go and look to see if they can have their purchase cheaper.
    I wouldn’t think a 7% exit rate is bad. I think that more people exit at time of checkout after shipping is added or for a variety of other reasons. I know that I was just looking for a part for my oven the other day, went to checkout on a website and realized that I didn’t have my wallet with me.
    And furthermore, I’ve seen my share of coupon codes that are taking $x off of an already inflated price!
    I say…consistently offer a quality product at a fair price and offer great customer service.
    Good post!

  5. I too don’t like the idea of online coupons actually. You’ve be way better off to simply offer a limited time sale price for an extra deal or bundle price for a sale instead of the coupons. I see what you mean for preferred customers, but then you should call it that so people don’t go searching for coupons. Change the field name to say, preferred customer code, and no one will go searching for a coupon.

    1. @Mike
      That is a fantastic idea. I’m going to give that a shot. This sounds like the best solution among the ones I was thinking of doing. Thanks!

  6. I think you’re right to question keeping that field. Whenever I’m shopping online and see it, I go look for a coupon. If I don’t find one, sometimes I’ll get annoyed and put off my purchase–seeing a coupon field triggers my expectation that I should find a coupon. When shopping at specialty stores, I don’t expect to use coupon codes–unless the field is there. I’d definitely get rid of it.

  7. I’m with Mike and Michelle, I never search for coupons but I always feel a little gypped when I see the code and I don’t have anything. It’s like at the supermarket when they ask you for coupons and you don’t have any. It just adds a bad taste to the whole experience.

  8. “…our cheapest customers have also traditionally been the hardest to please.”

    This is so true!!

    I do the same thing as Tyler – see the coupon code, don’t search for coupons, and buy anyway. Then, I’m left feeling that everyone else is getting the real price and I’m paying a higher price.

    great post.

  9. One thing you could consider is to send a coupon code for X% off their next order as a thank you and to build repeat business. Of course, I’m not sure how much repeat business you get or how often they would reorder linens but I always appreciate it when I get one in the box with my orders. It’s rewarding as a customer. But I would make it a unique code so it isn’t plastered all over the coupon sharing web sites. :)

  10. Yes, issuing free coupons really has many advantages, it could directly increase the overall sales, and indirectly increase the traffic to your online shopping stores, since consumers searching for coupons, eventually end up at stores in most cases.

  11. Great article. I am also interested in Coupon Code. I am on-line shopper. I wonder how many customers leave the checkout process to look for coupons on our store?

    Thanks

  12. I don’t like coupons either. It really does devalue the quality of your brand if you’re always handing out discounts to people. And then, as you’ve said, they expect it and won’t buy anything unless there is a “sale” going on. I usually only issue discounts to say thanks for an order or as an apology for messing up an order.

    We’ve sought to override this issue by implementing a customer rewards program. People can get discounts with the points they earn on purchases, which incentivizes them to spend more instead of waiting around for a coupon. We benefit from extra sales as a result. People haven’t really utilized it yet though. We’ve got to get a better sales page for it, but have to wait until Sweet Tooth updates their app on BigCommerce (currently in Beta).

  13. I have to admit, being a consumer that is extremely frugal, I am the customer looking for the coupons. When I shop though, I always do research into the company, shipping and overall cost and reviews of the product. Only then do I make the purchase. If I am truly in need of the product, I will buy no matter whether there is a coupon or not.

  14. Nancy says:

    For me personally, if there is normally a coupon for the store I will go out and see if I can find one (if I remember, I try to do this prior to ordering). If it’s a small store or a store that doesn’t normally offer coupons, I don’t even bother, I just go ahead and order.

    My question to you Steve, would it be possible to add specific wording to the coupon code box like ” MVC Personal Code” or “enter your personal unique code” or something to that effect? That will kind of hint at there’s no “generic” codes available.

    Just a thought. 😁

    Thanks
    Nancy

    1. That’s not a bad idea. Since I wrote this post, I’m now using gift voucher code but the problem is that people can’t find it.

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