Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Please Don’t Make Me Think

Keeping Promotions Simple

Laura Iles - Senior Consultant, Integrated Insight

My favorite grocery store runs a weekly ad, Thursday through Wednesday. It took me a little while to remember that the ad doesn't run with the calendar week, but I grew accustomed to it quickly enough. The challenge is, the store also gives out coupons in the flier. Coupons that run through Sunday.

Interestingly enough, it’s often the same coupons from week to week, but they are only available half the time. If I want to take advantage of the sales pricing and the coupon, I now have a 4 day window each week to do my shopping. 

I never remember in time. I can’t tell you how many coupons I've thrown away, sadly unused.

A friend who used to work as a cashier at the store rolled his eyes when he saw the most recent coupon. “Oh yes, and come Monday, half the customers will come in and try to use that coupon, since it’s a weekly flier. Explaining why we would put out coupons with different dates than the fliers they are in was always a treat.” 

I thought about that for a minute, relieved that I wasn't the only one who had made that mistake. “Why would the store do that?” I wondered. “They’re just making it harder on everyone.” 

For every customer who tries to use an expired coupon, the manager either has to honor an out-of-date offer (in which case, why limit it at all?) or risk upsetting the client. That’s a losing situation for someone, no matter how it is resolved. And it slows down the checkout process, frustrating other waiting customers. But still the out of sync promotions keep coming, week after week. 

Certain offers need to be fenced, and consumers understand that. But, why is the store running the promotion in the first place? Perhaps it’s driving incrementality, keeping the store front-of-mind, or rewarding longstanding customers. No matter the end goal, if the offer is confusing enough that half the customers consistently misunderstand, is it really driving behavior the way it was intended to? 

So please don’t make me think. We’re all on information overload, and for many of us, we just aren't interested in expending additional mental resources on a company’s promotions. The design team can emblazon “4 DAYS ONLY” in capital letters and bold typeface at the top of the coupon, but when it’s buried in a visually busy flier, it’s still easy to overlook. Online, in print, on TV – we've all learned to tune out the clutter. 

If it isn't necessary, don’t complicate the promotion. Run the coupon for the full week, but don’t run it every single week. Or put out a special insert, separate from the weekly flier. I’ll happily try a new product or buy extras of something if you give me a coupon – but not if I have to rearrange my schedule for it.

This store is not a discount store and, like most of the regulars, I am not an avid coupon clipper. I pay a little more for the service, the selection and the convenience. When promotions are out of sync with each other, it muddies the waters for the customer, which in turn makes work more difficult for the front-line employees. No one wins in that scenario. Whenever possible, keep it simple.

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