Digital Products | Marketing

Hassle-free coupon code automation to win subscribers

December 15, 2020

Between Black Friday and Christmas, promos from countless consumer retail websites abound. You’ve no doubt seen a a pop-up with a discount code to use at checkout or something on the shop page.

For the sake of example, here’s a recent one from Paper Source: (See graphic above.)

From the shop’s perspective, a generic discount code like ‘GREETING20’ to be used by anyone (guest checkout, or subscribers) is a bit of a loss-leader. It’s really no different from just running a sale, and and giving up a bit of unit profit in order to gain a bit of volume.

You don’t really even need a coupon code to make this trade; just mark appropriate items down to their sale price, and put a banner announcing it on the landing page. In fact, that’s probably better since it saves the customer from the hassle of remembering to use the code in the first place.

A much savvier approach, however, is to use single-use, custom coupon codes, or a unique coupon code created for each individual customer.

Why go to this level of specificity?


• When we are transacting on an individual basis with a customer, we can apply promotions in a more taylored way that is more valuable to the customer and the business. In general, we need a customer's email address for transactional purposes: sending receipts and shipment updates. But we need permission in order to subscribe them to marketing communications. Most consumers do not want to give away their email address for free; and rightfully so (time and attention are valuable!). Rather, they deserve an incentive for this access.

• You can’t ask a shopper to subscribe in order to obtain a standard, public coupon discount code like ‘GREETING20’ which is easily Google-able. You also might not want to require a shopper to subscribe in order to apply a such a code that's posted publicly…that’s a bit too much friction. However, custom single-use coupon allows you to gain a sale and a subscriber,  rather than only a one-off sale (the lifetime value of a subscriber being much greater) in exchange for a more meaningful discount. For example, the subscriber incentive may be in addition to, greater than or have a longer expiration window than a general other words, a level of value that you would not give away for free.

• Use of custom coupon codes can be tracked to enable referral programs. You can provide subscribers with additional unique coupon codes in order to share a promotion with a friend. Therefore, incentives may be offered and rewarded for successfully recruiting new subscribers.

What would this look like in practice?

Rather than giving everyone — strangers, subscribers, etc — a standard, public code, every shopper would get a unique coupon code. These codes would each be comprised of, at least partially, random characters. So a comparison of standard vs. custom coupon codes might look like this: (See table to right or below.)

The key feature are:

• Codes can only be used by subscribers (i.e. immediately after subscribing),
• Codes can only be used one time each,
• Each code can only be used by a specific subscriber.

Single-use custom coupon code shared with 10 shoppers
Standard coupon code shared with 10 shoppers

Wouldn’t customized coupon codes be a hassle to manage?

Correct, in that you don't want to manage this process manually. Fortunately: we have automation to the rescue! Custom codes can be automatically created for each new subscriber. The key is to enable your email automation and website to share these codes on the fly, as they are created, or to sync from an automated batch process.

What are some tips to implment this?

• Use an email automation system that can automatically sync unique codes with your website. If a list of codes are generated on the website but require manual upload to your email program, then you are tasked with tracking how close a list is to becoming exhausted. To this I say: come on...this is a job for a computer, not a human. Employ automatic code generation and syncing to relieve this duty. If your shop runs on WooCommerce or Shopify, Jilt is a great solution that pushes codes to to your shop (anything Beka Rice works on is great, btw…). If you are running on Shopify or BigCommerce, Omnisend uses ‘Content Blocks’ to import codes from these platforms’ automatic code generators. Both Jilt and Omnisend have been built from the ground-up for product-oriented shops and have GREAT email campaign layouts and automation design. For WooCommerce, Jilt’s automatic code generator alone makes it worthy of a serious look.

• With unique codes you are likely going to have an ugly string of characters that are, for the most part, not very memorable. Provide a ‘Click to Copy’ button so that shoppers are prompted to copy & paste (to the checkout page, a temporary text editor file, or whatever), rather than expecting them to manually write down or re-type a code.

• Better yet, reveal and apply the coupon in the flow of checkout without requiring them to pause, check email or log in and remember where they were in the process. Simply prompt them to subscribe (and confirm they have done so) in exchange for immediate application of the coupon.  Just be sure to make It clear what you are actually asking them to do through call to action; i.e. ‘Get 10% off on your order! Subscribe for a personal coupon’.

Interested in automating a referral program that leverages custom coupon codes? Let’s talk.

Happy Holidays!

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