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Aug 11, 2014 | 4 minute read

Own Your Code: 10 Ways to Prevent Coupon Abuse

written by Linda Bustos

For many online retailers, a world without coupon codes and promotions is unimaginable. Unless you have a brand unaffected by Amazon, coupons are likely part of your merchandising toolkit.

As we've covered on Get Elastic in the past, coupon codes can cost you more than the margin you give away with the discount. Savvy customers know they can find coupon codes in Google, and even when not referred by these affiliates, will use them, causing you to pay out extra to affiliates, muddy your marketing attribution, and train customers to always find codes this way.

Suppressing the coupon box in checkout for customers who haven't been referred with a code is one way to handle this problem. Another is to "own your code" - and control their distribution and use.

Here are some examples:

1. Home page overlay does a couple things here. Though the in-your-face offer means most all of their customers will be getting a discount (not terrible if an evergreen discount strategy is already factored into regular pricing margins or if used for certain customer segments or times of the year), its urgency, auto-application and clever tactic to build its email list may be worth it. (This should be tested).

Image via BetterRetail

Horse also uses geolocation, showing a different offer to Canadian visitors (as free shipping thresholds can be different outside of the US).


2. Creative checkout call-to-action

Office Max includes microcopy "how do I get these?" which links to an email sign up. The customer may be less likely to seek coupons elsewhere, and may accept to pay full price this time.

Even if you're liberal with affiliate codes, this suggests the only way is to get 'em from you. It might not deter everyone from trying, but it's a great way to save margin, attribution and build your list.

Macy's is similar, but links to a more immediate page - some may be more persuaded by this instant gratification - abandonment in cart as someone waits for a promo email, could hurt conversion.

3. Email and social

Email is a no-brainer, but social-only coupons offer an incentive for brand fans to not only keep your page Liked on Facebook, but to Follow you to receive every notification (as it's tougher and tougher for brands to reach the News Feed organically).

4. Inside your app / SMS message / iBeacons

Ditto above.

5. Offer exclusive coupons

Another strategy is to give specific coupons to affiliates (such as for specific items or product categories), and keep others exclusive. Coupon snipers will become frustrated to not find a site-wide discount.

6. Codes-back-with-purchase

Old Navy gives post-purchase, time-limited codes to reward customers and spur quick, repeat orders.

7. Persist unique coupons in account

Shutterfly is an example of holding offers in a user's account. These can be highly personalized.

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8. Burn coupons fast

Give affiliates codes that expire quickly. A coupon site with many codes that users report as unsuccessful can motivate a customer to just check out without one.


9. Ask affiliates to noindex

You set the terms for coupon sites to work with you. You can require them to noindex your brand pages so they are not returned in search results, thus affiliate can refer only customers from their own promotions, forums, etc.

For example, Zappos may choose to tolerate a high traffic couponer like Retailmenot in its affiliate program to refer its own traffic, provided the page doesn't rank in search engines for "Zappos coupons."


Notice Retailmenot doesn't list coupon codes, it merely directs visitors to home and category pages. It appears Zappos has not requested noindex, as the branded page shows up in search.

10. Don't use coupons, period.

Zappos is an example of a retailer that doesn't offer coupon codes to affiliates.

the reason is given on their site, wrapped in a very well articulated value proposition, reiterating that free shipping both ways, 365 day return policy and superior customer service is what you get for full price.

You'll notice it's also cleverly search engine optimized for the term 'Zappos coupons' and its misspellings, for which it ranks tops in Google, along with a Buzzfeed-worthy title tag "The Truth About Zappos Coupons."


Further reading:

Keeping coupon usage under control

The Promo Code Tactic That Cut Coupon Poaching By 90%

6 Ways to Tackle the Promo Code Problem