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10 promotion code mistakes online retailers should avoid

How many times have you come across something online that you wanted to buy and thought to yourself, “I’ll wait until a promotion or coupon code hits my inbox to buy it?” Chances are that happens often, and there’s a good reason for it.

Promotion codes, which offer a percentage or certain dollar amount off of a purchase, are widely used in online retail. They’re a great way to generate new customers and increase customer loyalty, which in turn drives sales. But, like any other digital customer experience (CX), online retailers need to ensure they’re deploying them correctly. If they’re not, it can lead to a wide array of issues, such as customer struggle and abandonment, which not only hurts brand reputation and costs the company loyal customers, but it also impacts the bottom line.

Important things to pay attention to in your online retail promotion code strategy to improve digital CX

Wherever a page features a promotion code entry field, it almost invariably generates a significant error rate. Based on analysis of thousands of customer user sessions across hundreds of retailers, we put together 10 common mistakes to avoid when it comes to online retail and promotion codes.

1. Positioning – Inviting users to enter a code can provoke a sense of entitlement if the application of promotion codes is too heavily publicized.

Be aware of points on the journey where there may be greater value in maintaining user focus on progressing with their purchase than adding potential distractions and interruptions. Particularly toward the end of a checkout journey, many customers will feel if there’s a prominent discount code field there should be a discount and may be disinclined to continue their purchase without one.

2. Exposure – Particularly where a retailer would not be expecting the majority of visitors to a purchase funnel to redeem an offer, abandonment rates may be reduced by not featuring a prominent promo code field expanded within the checkout.

3. Watch your language – The term ‘discount code’ can further promote expectation that a discount is or should be available. As mentioned earlier, many customers may feel disinclined to continue their purchase if they don’t have a code. You also run the risk of losing potential customers by leaving their shopping cart to find a code on a third-party site, with every intention to return, but get distracted and end up abandoning their cart unintentionally.

4. Segregate from other code input fields (such as those for gift cards) Ensure that the terms used on the site for any other codes which may be entered on the page are consistent. If gift vouchers have a separate branding, leverage this as a point of distinction.

5. Avoid excess complexity Though complex codes might be desirable from a security point of view, unless the code is an individual or single-use code for a specific discount, over-complexity can lead to an increased rate of input errors.

Wherever possible, provide utility for users to ‘click to apply’ codes when they are publicized on the site, minimizing the potential for input errors where users are forced to memorize or cut and paste codes.

6. Conditional promotions – Another common cause of code failure is when a qualifying item or minimum order total is required to apply a specific offer.

When users enter an ineligible code, ensure that the error messaging clearly helps customers understand why their basket is ineligible for the offer and what they can do to successfully qualify.

7. Poor error messaging There is nothing more frustrating to a user than an error which tells you a code is ineligible/invalid, but gives no indication why. Unhelpful messaging, such as ‘invalid code,’ is common. To reduce abandonment, provide a clear reason why a code cannot be applied and remedial action where possible can reduce abandonment.

8. High value orders – Clarity of messaging and the ability to successfully apply promo codes can be important for customers during the purchase process for ‘big ticket’ items where promotions can lead to significant savings. Conversely, the inability to apply a significant discount is more likely to lead to abandonment.

9. Display the discount prominently Once a promo code has been successfully applied, ensure all visible order summary details clearly reflect this. Some customers won’t believe the code has been applied until they see it.

If the discount applied is not prominently reflected in any visible order total it can lead to increased confusion and users continuously trying to re-apply or work out if the code has been applied, rather than focus on completing their purchase.

10. Promotion assistance In markets/sectors where discount codes have prevalence, a ‘find best coupon’ tool might be employed in the cart to help users find the best discount for their purchase and avoid users leaving the cart (or the site) to go searching for discounts. ‘Couponers’ are notoriously vociferous about finding and applying savings, and this is no different within online retail!

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