8 strategies for more effective coupons

Being able to use a coupon on an order makes you feel like you’ve won something. It can be a pretty great feeling, right? Here I thought I was going to spend $56.42 on my order, and BAM! I’ve got a 10 percent discount or free shipping.

Your customers love this feeling too. According to an e-Tailing study, 56 percent of customers say coupons or discounts are a “very important” factor in determining whether they’ll purchase or not. People like getting discounts for online orders, so much that they may not purchase without a coupon.

Overall, coupons increase conversion rate, average order value, and customer loyalty, according to studies done by Compete.

However, coupons can be conversion killers. KISSmetrics shows that coupon boxes can encourage customers to leave your site in the checkout funnel, and a study by PayPal and comScore confirms this, finding that 27 percent percent of abandoned carts are due to customers searching for a coupon.

I know I’m very often guilty of this: I get to a checkout page, and every time I’m there it reminds me that I could be getting my order for less: “Got a discount? Apply Coupon.” Off to Google I go for “Site + Coupon”.

So how do you battle the conversion killer? There are some changes you can make to your site or checkout page to help reduce cart abandonment from coupon searches while still maintaining customer satisfaction and saving sales that depend on discounts.

Coupon strategy 1: Disable coupons

Okay, this probably isn’t the strategy you’re looking for immediately. However, disabling discounts or limiting their availability can benefit your shop. If you constantly offer coupons, your customers may be trained to look for them and won’t purchase unless they have a coupon code. Customers that will purchase without a code are typically more loyal and have higher lifetime values.

Even if you don’t disable coupons on a permanent basis, you can remove them from time-to-time to make sure customers don’t expect them, and to create some urgency around when they’re offered because they’re a limited time thing.

While you may be hesitant to remove coupons due to the conversion benefits that come from offering them, you should also make sure that the increase in conversion rate the coupon(s) yield increases profits. Certified Knowledge has some great insights here, but basically you should ensure that the increase in orders from coupons (which have decreased profitability) outweigh the higher profitability of non-discounted orders.

There is such a thing as over-offering discounts, and you should make sure you’re not unintentionally ruining your profitability by offering them.

So how can you remove them? Most plugins have a way for you to disable coupons:

  • WooCommerce: You can disable coupons under WooCommerce > Settings > Checkout to remove the inputs from your cart / checkout pages
  • Easy Digital Downloads: If you have no active coupons (no coupons, or all are deactivated / expired), EDD will remove the coupon field at checkout automatically
  • WP eCommerce: Will remove coupon fields if you have no active coupons
  • Exchange: You can disable the “Coupons” add-on to remove coupons from the store
  • Jigoshop: Will remove coupon fields without an active coupon
  • Shopp: Will remove coupon fields without an active coupon

Coupon strategy 2: Only give coupons as a reward

Instead of giving out a discount code to enter at checkout, you can limit your discounts to apply them when a customer takes a desired action. For example, you can give out a coupon if a customer completes a survey, signs up for your email list, or shares a product via social media.

This can help you still offer discounts to customers who want them, but also get something in return: a tweet, Facebook like, or email list signup. For example, Bed Bath & Beyond offers coupons to anyone who signs up for their email list:

Bed Bath & Beyond Email signup

You could do the same thing and include coupons in your “Welcome” email that confirms sign up. You can also delay sending the coupon until a day after the sign up (as Bed Bath & Beyond does), which may help reduce the number of people who sign up and immediately unsubscribe once the coupon is in hand.

There are also plugins that can help you reward social sharing with discounts. If you use Easy Digital Downloads, the Social Discount extension ($16) can apply discounts for a user when they share your products via social media. If you use WooCommerce, you can do the same thing with the Social Coupon add-on ($22).

Coupon strategy 3: Rename coupon fields

Renaming coupon fields is a common tip for improving conversions, as the word “Coupon” is practically a huge notice to leave the site and search for codes. However, if you use a different term, such as “Promo code”, customers can be less likely to leave your site to look for a code as it implies they’d need one as part of a promotion or group.

If you choose to call your discounts something else, be sure to remain consistent in that naming convention. If you call them “Voucher codes”, always use that term in your emails and communication with customers, as they’ll look for that phrase on your cart / checkout page to enter the code. You don’t want to rename your coupon fields, then upset customers that do have a discount because they don’t know where to apply it.

We’ve written a tutorial on how to rename coupon fields using WooCommerce, but it’s a pretty simple change to make with most plugins. The free Say What plugin is incredibly helpful for doing this, as it lets you “translate” the terms on your site. Rather than translate them into a different language, you can change them to your desired wording.

Say what text changes coupon field
Enter Coupon term changes

This will adjust the wording on your site for coupon fields:

Easy DIgital Downloads change coupon field 1
Before
Easy DIgital Downloads change coupon field 2
After
 

Here’s a list of text domains for popular eCommerce plugins that will help out if you’ve never translated text.

Coupon strategy 4: Hide coupons and apply via URL

If you really hate that coupon code field but still want to offer loyal customers discounts, you can take a middle-of-the-road approach rather than disabling coupons completely.

Instead of requiring customers to enter a code to apply a coupon, you can give them a URL to apply the coupon instead. This can let you remove the coupon field from your cart and checkout pages, but let you give out links to apply a coupon that existing customers can use. This can help you put the link on your site, send it via email, or give it out to partners or affiliates to let them promote your store.

Instead of using coupon codes, encode offers in special links embedded in your email newsletters and automatically transfer the coupon to the user’s shopping cart.

Jakob Nielson

We’ve got a tutorial on removing coupon fields and applying them via URL when using Easy Digital Downloads and we covered part of this in a tutorial on removing WooCommerce coupon fields.

If you want to hide the coupon fields with WooCommerce, here’s a useful tutorial to get you started, and you can add the ability to apply coupons via URL with the WooCommerce URL Coupons ($49) plugin.

Coupon strategy 5: Move coupon fields to be less obvious

If you want to keep your coupon fields at checkout, you might want to put them in a less obvious place than at the top of the checkout page. This keeps the field there for people that need it, but ensures that new customers have to start filling out the checkout before they leave the page to start searching for codes. As they’ve started the checkout process already at this point, they’re more likely to continue to complete it.

This strategy can be a partner to renaming the coupon field as well.

We’ve got a tutorial on how to move the coupon field on the checkout page with WooCommerce, but for many plugins, you’d need to edit the checkout template to move the field where you’d like it (which may require the help of a developer / web designer).

Coupon strategy 6: Create a “deals” page

If you’re already going to be offering deals, you can ensure that customers don’t leave your site to look for them by listing them on your site or advertising that you share them with your email list. This can help you get new email signups, or simply keep customers on-site while offering a discount.

The discount can be something as simple as a free shipping coupon, but that way customers won’t leave and go elsewhere for the discount.

If you’re using WooCommerce, you can do this pretty easily with the free Coupon Shortcodes plugin — we’ve got a tutorial on using it as well. This lets you easily show all of your discounts on one page with a shortcode. The plugin slo lets you conditionally display content based on whether a coupon applies, doesn’t apply, or has been applied by a customer to personalize the coupon experience.

A deals page could also be created and updated manually so it’s styled to your liking. A good strategy might be to show both sales and discounts (depending on how many sale items you have) to cater to bargain hunters.

Coupon strategy 7: Automatically apply coupons

This could be a strategy you take instead of a “deals” page: apply a coupon automatically to the cart page to give every customer a discount. If you’re thinking of offering free shipping anyway, adding a flat shipping cost but then applying a free shipping coupon can be a low-cost way of doing so.

KISSmetrics recommends this approach so the coupon will both keep customers happy and on your site so they’ll complete orders:

To prevent this, don’t just show coupon codes at the front of your page, but fill one in for the customer at checkout. Even if it’s something small – shoppers will appreciate the discount or freebie and will continue ordering without feeling interrupted.

If you’re using WooCommerce, you could easily use the URL Coupons extension for this as well, as it can automatically apply a coupon when a certain URL (such as the cart page) is visited.

Coupon strategy 8: Always set expiration dates

As a final strategy, you should always set expiration dates for your discounts. This helps your site improve its coupon strategy in a couple of ways:

  • it creates a sense of urgency, encouraging customers to make the purchase so they don’t miss the discount
  • it ensures that deals or coupon sites can’t list a discount in perpetuity
  • it ensures that customers aren’t trained to always use coupons if they’re not always running

Summary

For some customers, coupons can make or break the purchasing experience. While offering coupons can be a great way to boost sales and increase customer happiness, it can also lead to cart abandonment and discourage purchasing without a discount.

Planning out an effective coupon strategy and making minor site changes to improve coupon field presentation can help you ensure that couponing keeps customers happy, but doesn’t wipe out your profitability.

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