On the eve of Valentine’s Day, promotional machines are in high gear as retailers, restaurants, florists, and greeting card makers are hoping to win the maximum payoff from a one day celebration of love.
Amid all the possibilities of digital media, I’m noticing that coupons continue to be the promotional engine that drives a day like Valentine’s. Just like love, sex, and relationships, coupons have been around forever – or so it seems. The question is, can they ever become “sexy”?
Coupons have certain characteristics that are undeniable. They are straightforward, transparent, and available. Too bad that ubiquity does not equate to desirability. I remember some parental advice given long ago to my sisters that they should never make themselves too “available”, that instead they should keep a little distance from “those boys”. According to my parents, being available was a slippery slope that could lead to a reputation as easy, trashy, eventually boring. Coupons are the same way.
One major retailer comes to mind which sends a regular blast of 20% off coupons to customers. The challenge with the approach is that the same coupon is sent to just about everyone in the zip-code and consumers become trained to only shop when they have a fistful of 5 x 7 inch discount in their hands. While marketers wring hands over how to embrace “Big Data”, I have not seen evidence that these coupons are customized by value, last purchase, or any other behavioral measure – all data which should be already on file for the customers receiving these coupons. Instead, they appear to be sent in batch by predictable cadence, enabling customers to consider everything in stock to be 20% off every time they shop.
Mystery on the other hand, brings spice to a relationship. Mystery can be sprinkled in small doses to a relationship, and the $10 of CVS ExtraBucks I noticed towards the bottom of my receipt after shopping yesterday was a good example of being surprised and delighted by a reward that would be considered transparent and boring if delivered as a coupon in the mail. Have a look at this video about how the CVS Coupon Champ adds a fresh perspective to coupon madness by clearly linking the value received as a benefit of their ExtraCare loyalty program.
Sometimes, romance can be sparked through great presentation. A new dress, a surprise gift, and a romantic venue can combine for a special night. Stop & Shop has dressed up its weekly circular and coupon offers in a mobile app that promises to create an experience around otherwise ordinary coupons. Compare this to the coupon book that landed in the mailbox this month. On the inside cover, it urged me to “take this coupon book with you and keep it handy in your glove box or purse”. Ah, the mobile app for the digitally challenged. There is certainly a place for paper in the glove box (that’s where our 20% coupons from the aforementioned retailer reside in our house) but Stop & Shop has taken a bolder step that creates customer engagement and experience through coupons.
As always, the perception of beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. In love, there is someone for everyone, and in marketing, there are many ways to capture consumer attention. Retailers have been in love with coupons for a very long time and seem content to overlook their shortcomings as they are perceived as an effective and low risk strategy to drive footfall to their stores.
Stars in the eyes can blind a person to reality and I hope that retailers, at the least, will realize that coupons need a serious make-over to cover up their defects.