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‘Sucks to Be Beth’ and Other Responses to Real Deal: The Case of the Bounce-Back Coupons

Retailers share how they would handle a bounce-back coupon mistake that could lead to big losses.

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BETH LOOKED AROUND her store before opening on Jan. 1 and smiled at how little was left of holiday inventory. The week before Christmas had been insanely busy thanks to the bounce-back coupons she had offered. For every $75 a customer spent in December, they received a $25 coupon to use on a purchase of $75 or more in January. Beth had gotten the idea from another pet store owner. Never had she thought the offer would bring in so much business!

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

NANCY GUINN is founder and president of Dog
Krazy Inc., an award-winning pet supply store in Virginia with six locations. Also a clinical pet nutritionist, she consults with veterinarians and pet parents alike. Nancy shares her life with business partner and husband Chris, and their pets Sushi, Pork Wonton, Stirfry Fatguy, Tala, Jimmy Dean and Max.

It did, with some customers coming back several times to earn multiple coupons. And Beth’s e-commerce store had its highest sales week ever thanks to the deal also being available online.

She walked to the front door to open and found one of her regular customers waiting. “Good morning,” Beth said as she unlocked the door. Joy, her sales lead, walked with him toward the food department, where he grabbed a large bag of kibble. The customer also grabbed one of the holiday toys left over, placing both on the counter.

“Will this be enough to use the $25 coupon,” he asked Joy. It certainly was, Beth thought, as she knew the bag of food alone was $79.99. The customer snapped a photo of the coupon before tearing it off the original receipt and handing it to Joy.

Beth smiled as he left the store and turned to Joy and said, “Do you know why he took a photo of the coupon?” She responded, “Yes. He said he was going to use the online coupon code as well.” Joy looked at the coupon and added, “It doesn’t say that’s not allowed.”

Beth panicked, taking the coupon from Joy. It said, “Good for in-store and online purchases.” The coupon didn’t specify one-time use, though, nor did it specify “in January only.”

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Beth closed her eyes to hide the tears. If they wanted to, customers could use the coupon in-store and then multiple times online, or just multiple times online. She could invalidate the coupon code in her online store, but not until Feb. 1 or else there would be unhappy customers because they couldn’t even use it once.

Dog food margins were slim to begin with, and Beth knew customers were going to use the coupon on food purchases. What was she going to do?

The Big Questions

  • Should Beth email her customers that the coupon can only be used once, in-store or online?
  • Should she remove the coupon code from her online store now and tell customers to contact the store for a new code that will only work once and only in January?
  • Should Beth honor all coupon uses and take the loss? It was her mistake, after all.
  • What other stipulations should she add to her bounce-back coupons going forward?

 

Frank F.
FARMINGDALE, NJ

Sucks to be Beth … but she if she is smart, she would happily honor all coupons redeemed during the month of January, whether the same coupon was redeemed once or 30 times … doesn’t matter! Experience is sometimes a tough teacher, learn from it and move on. On a good note, Beth will be creating quite the stir in the marketplace by offering such a lucrative promotion. Hopefully it will promote plenty of goodwill toward her store in the future.

Diana F.
SAN ANTONIO, TX

Yikes! I would probably fess up to customers via email, social media, etc. Something like, “This idea is so new to us, and we were so happy to find a way to reward our loyal customers for shopping with us that we forgot to state the coupon is good only for one-time use, either in-store or online. We’re so sorry for the confusion!” or something similar.

Christine F.
ST. CLOUD, FL

I would remove the online coupon and tell them to contact the store for a new one. Then I would print some sort of disclaimer to post in store and online. Something like, “We apologize for the printing error, but our coupons are good for one use only either online or in store.”

Susan N.
CHESTER, NJ

She should email her customers and let them know it can only be used one time. They probably all know that, and the vast majority would only use it once, but there are always some who behave unethically

Michelle M.
OSPREY, FL

This is a tough one. I am a very small store, so I don’t know that our customers would try to double dip so to speak. But there is a big potential for loss, especially if food is allowed, as the markup on food is lower. I think options A and B should be implemented, and in the future lots of specifics should be on said coupon. And I would limit the deal to one offer per household not one offer per $100 spent. We also have a customer rewards program internally that we give customers dollars off with points based on purchases, and do Astro offers so I feel we offer programs already to build store loyalty.

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Rachel M.
PARRISH, FL

I have had this happen to us in the past. I proofed the coupon, my marketing gal proofed the coupon, and we both missed it. We ate the loss … it’s not the customer’s fault for wanting to double or triple dip. Beth would have it worse by upsetting her customers and risk losing their business altogether. Sometimes you just have to take your punches and get back up to do it better the next time!

Beth K.
IRWIN, PA

Unfortunately, this is a lesson learned the hard way. We’ve probably all made mistakes like this at some point, but you sure don’t do it twice. I think most people would be reasonable and not overuse the coupon, but you generally have a few that will take advantage. I think you just need to suck it up with those few and move on. Better that than to alienate customers. Besides, for those that take advantage, they’ll always remember the great deal they got at your store.

Jennifer  B.
NORTH RIDGEVILLE, OH

Beth could try to change the rules on the coupon after the fact, but she is likely to have some very unhappy customers. Legally speaking, that could fall into the category of bait and switch, and could cause legal problems, too. Beth may not have a choice except to honor the coupon and hope not too many people abuse it.

Jennifer S.
SPRINGFIELD, MO

That made my heart hurt just reading the scenario! If it was a small mistake, like a $5 coupon, I would say just eat it, but a mistake that large would have to be addressed. I would contact my customers and put up a post just being honest and explaining the situation, along with the new coupon stipulations. I can’t imaging my customers not being understanding for a mistake like that.

Pattie Z.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

In the words of retail coach, Bob Negen, “What would my customer want?” Well, they’d want Beth to honor her offer, even though she made a mistake. It’s not worth losing a customer for a policy. Next year, the offer could be more thought out, but you wouldn’t want so many disclaimers that the customers wouldn’t use it. If it’s a gift certificate, make it a real gift and your customers will appreciate your generosity and come back again and again.

Sal S.
WEBSTER, NY

The scenario is a frustrating one with only one possible answer in my opinion. You honor that coupon and count it as marketing budget. There is no better thing you can do as a business owner today than to get a customer acclimated with your website. Though an initial loss will be felt we run our businesses for the long run. Life has a way of balancing itself out and customers want to do good by company’s that gave them good value for the long haul. When we put out a coupon or make a mistake in a sale it’s our policy to honor it and learn from our mistakes. In the long run if you did something where a customer won, it won’t be a mistake or a loss- it’s going to pay you back down the line!

Alexis B.
SALT LAKE CITY, UT

We have done the bounce-back coupon in the past. We didn’t offer it for online purchases, and they were numbered so once used in store they could no longer be used again. With that said, Beth’s oversight may cost her, but will every customer take advantage of her? If the coupon said “or” to me, that means one or the other. I would make up a sign that indicates it can be used once, either in house or online, and make sure her staff knows. Not sure how to track that on her online purchase if people are taking pictures of the coupon. This might be one of those learning experiences and next year it can be more spelled out.

Theresa S.
MONTGOMERY, AL

Beth should email her customers with an apology that in the holiday rush to get the coupon to the printer, she’d forgotten to include the stipulation that the coupon could be used only once, in-store or online. She might honor a second use only once for this one particular customer since she didn’t address it while he was in the store and if she does, make it clear that this is the last time to use the coupon. The majority of coupons everywhere have a one-time use stipulation, so I think most customers would understand. If they don’t understand, then they apparently have no problem abusing the system and I wouldn’t want them as a customer anyway. Going forward Beth should be sure to include the one-time use stipulation and an expiration date.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

Nancy Guinn is the founder and president of Dog Krazy Inc., an award-winning natural pet supply store in Virginia with six locations. She helps other small businesses succeed through her contributions to industry magazines, webinars and podcasts. The Guinn household includes Nancy’s husband and business partner, Chris, and their furry and feathered inspirations Sushi, Pork Wonton, Stirfry Fatguy, Tala, Jimmy Dean and Max.

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