Using Coupons to Drive Sales

saleDeals are all around us, and savings are ripe for the taking. Coupons, particularly are everywhere – haunting your email inbox, floating through your text messages, and billowing out of your mailbox. As a consumer, no doubt you love a good bargain just as much as anyone else – I mean, who hasn’t bragged about getting designer jeans for 50% off? Or in my case, a Captain America t-shirt?

So why should you feel any differently about the issue as a merchant? People love to feel like they’re getting a deal, and if you can offer them an amazing opportunity, it tends to inspire their loyalty.

But let’s not count our chickens before they’re hatched. You should realize that there is a lot to consider prior to taking the plunge into coupon sales. First, what basic content do I need for a coupon? Second, what kinds of offers would best suit my business? Third, how should I market my coupons? Fourth – the most dreaded question – how do I manage the cost of coupons to my company?

Don’t freak out. This may seem like a lot to handle, but I’ll walk you through the process one step at a time. And remember – we are in the midst of a coupon renaissance. There’s a plethora of information out there about how to utilize couponing – yes, that is a word now – to your business’s advantage. So many businesses have boarded the coupon train at this point that the path is practically paved for you.

What are you waiting for? Let’s get started on your guided tour through coupon creation and implementation.

Basic Coupon Content

I thought I’d start you off nice and slow with the simplest part: how to write a coupon. Most POS systems virtually do this for you, but basics always include a title, body, terms, and expiration date.

  • Title: This should be short and sweet, stating the savings succinctly. All you really need to say can be summed up in two words: “30% OFF” or “$25 OFF,” for example. Grab the attention of your customers with numbers first, and they’ll be more likely to pay attention.
  • Body: The body of your coupon serves to provide details about the deal. It should be as concise as possible, and convey important information about the savings offered. You’ll want to clarify whether the coupon applies to everything in the store or just to certain items. If the discount takes effect only after the customer has spent a certain amount of money on your products (i.e. “Save 30% when you spend $100 or more”), this is the place to spell it out.
  • Terms & Conditions: These lay out the fine print conditions of your offered bargain – information such as “Not valid with any other offers.”
  • Expiration Date: Pay close attention to your expiration date, as it is essential to the ultimate success (and profitability) of your coupon campaign. It needs to be spelled out clearly so you don’t have to deal with angry customers trying to use expired coupons. Expiration timing is entirely up to you, and depends on your preferences and the type of coupon you create. Print coupons typically run for a month and a half. Digital coupons tend to have shorter deadlines: two weeks, one week, or even just a day or two.

The Right Offers for Your Business

Okay, now we’ll move on to more complicated matters: deciding what kinds of coupons work for your situation. The whole “Save 30% when you spend $100 or more” gambit makes sense if you’re running a retail business, but not so much if you’re running an ice cream shoppe. The type of deal you offer will usually be based on the type of business you run. If you own a pizzeria, coupons for a specified monetary discount ($5 OFF) will be effective, though you could also try for specific discounts to menu items (Family Sized Pepperoni Pizza for $7.99). Fast food restaurateurs might try either of the styles mentioned above, or opt for BOGO deals (i.e. Free Small Milkshake With The Purchase of 2 Cheeseburgers.)

If your business offers services with a fixed rate – massages, pedicures, etc. – you might try offering additional services to your typical packages. For instance, you could create a coupon that offered the customer a free facial in addition to the usual spa package. This is not only a great way to bring in new customers, but it also serves to introduce current customers to services they might not already be using.

The key here is to evaluate the type of business you have and then find the best way to promote it. Are Wednesdays and Thursdays consistently slow? Make coupons that discount purchases on those evenings. Do you own an ice cream shoppe, and it’s the dead of winter? Make BOGO coupons to bring in customers you wouldn’t normally get otherwise. Be creative!

How to Market Your Coupons

I may have gotten you thinking now about all the fantastic deals you’re going to offer. But in order for those deals to be seen and enjoyed by the masses, you need to market them. For this section, I’ll be talking about digital coupons specifically.

  • The first big step is to utilize email. If you can send your bargains to your customers’ email accounts, you have created an automatic way to update them on discounts and specials and keep them coming back for more. It’s also possible to email special coupons with unique barcodes – this allows you to personalize deals based on a customer’s previous purchases. If they bought a large pepperoni pizza, send them a coupon that takes $5 off their next large pepperoni.
  • The second step to marketing coupons successfully is aesthetics. Your logo should be eye-catching and pleasing, as should any product photos you include. There’s a reason that Domino’s commercials leave you drooling and craving garlic-y pepperoni goodness. We are creatures driven primarily by sight. If we see a tantalizing image of an ice cream sundae, you better bet we’re going to take advantage of that deal.
  • The third step is text messaging, and it’s arguably more important than email. Unless you are hopelessly tied to your Inbox (like me), you may only see coupons after they have been buried in spam and notifications. Text is a much more effective way to access people. It also gives off an air of exclusivity that consumers like.
  • The fourth step is using social media. Twitter and Facebook are powerful tools that can be wielded to bolster your coupon campaign. These platforms can not only be used to alert existing customers following your Twitter feed or Facebook account about new deals but they can also prompt sharing, discussed in the next point.
  • The final step, sharing, allows your customers to do your marketing for you. By encouraging your customers to boost your business through sharing your coupons with others, you can raise awareness of your brand and gain happy customers in one go.

The Ultimate Cost of Coupons

This is the elephant in the room, isn’t it? I mean, it’s all fine and dandy to offer discounts and sales, but if the cost outweighs the return it can strike a death blow to your business.
To remain profitable, you must consider how much it costs to make and distribute the coupons, what you stand to gain by attracting new custom, and how much revenue you’ll end up losing when existing customers use your coupons.
If very few new customers come in to take advantage of your coupons and lots of existing customers make use of them, you will have a net loss. So how do you ensure that new customers come back?

The key to keeping new customers coming back for more is follow-up coupons. These can be sent out to new customers specifically and do not even need to offer the same level of discount to be as effective as the original coupon.

One surefire way to cut costs is to reduce the amount of time spent trying to make, organize, and distribute coupons. Most point-of-sale (POS) systems are already wired to help you create coupons; they allow you to set up simple amount-based discounts or percentage-based discounts, specify what inventory the discounts apply to and the dates during which the discounts are valid, etc. But you can also leverage your POS system to establish loyalty programs and email marketing via integrations with 3rd party software– making your software basically do the coupon work for you!

  • Loyalty programs can come in many shapes and sizes – BOGO, point systems, cash reward, etc. – but all of them provide deals that require additional purchases for the customer to benefit from them. Find the one that works best for your business. People are more than willing to spend money if they think it could save them money in the future.
  • Email marketing software is also useful for distributing coupons and building a loyal client-base and certain options – like MailChimp, Benchmark, and SendinBlue – are free! This type of software allows you to reach out to customers in a personal and targeted manner. It even allows you to analyze how well your campaigns are working. For example, you can keep track of who is actually opening up and using your coupons.

The Takeaway

Now it’s time to use some of the advice I’ve given you and decide how you should go about integrating couponing into your business.

Remember: you have the supply, now you need to create the demand.

Kelsey O’Neill is a writer who recently graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience. She is now seeking to inform the masses about point-of-sale (POS) systems by writing for Merchant Maverick, a site that reviews merchant services.

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