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Email marketing coupons: Best practices for driving sales with discounts

9 min read
Beka Rice

Email marketing coupons are a ubiquitous part of the shopping experience, especially in the United States. According to RetailMeNot, 96 percent of Americans use coupons.

They’re great for both attracting and retaining customers. According to SimplyCodes’ coupon statistics page, 91 percent of coupon users say they’ll revisit a retailer after using a coupon and 57 percent say they wouldn’t have made a purchase without the coupon first.

Email marketing coupons are great for both attracting and retaining customers.

Why use email marketing coupons

Furthermore, 82 percent of people are more likely to continue using a retailer that offers consistent deals.

Email is a big part of how we receive and consume coupons. Data shows that 93 percent of subscribers are likely to use coupons they receive via email, 40 percent share email deals with their friends, and 70 percent say they used a coupon from an email in the past week.

Email is a big part of how we receive and consume coupons.

The number of digital coupon users has been rising for some time. In 2012, 92.3 million people used coupons, but that number rose to 126.9 million in 2016.

Number of digital coupons

Unsurprisingly, most people get their coupons directly from retailers.

How consumers find online coupons

Coupons aren’t just for people who need to save money. High-earners want discounts too. 96% of people who earn $75,000-$99,000/year and 92% of people who earn over $100,000/year want coupons.

The takeaway here is that if you want to be competitive, you should probably offer coupons too.

Best practices for email marketing coupons

Getting the best return from discounting your products isn’t as simple as blasting out an email with a code. Here are some best practices for creating and sending email marketing coupons.

1. Attach discounts to email opt in opportunities

According to a survey by Technology Advice, receiving coupons and offers is the top reason people subscribe to email lists.

Discounts are a simple and powerful way to entice your web visitors to subscribe to your email list. Instead of offering something nebulous (like “great deals,” “latest styles,” or “monthly giveaway”), give them a tangible coupon they can use right now.

Receiving coupons and offers is the top reason people subscribe to email lists.

According to the principle of reciprocity, we know humans naturally want to return favors to one another. This means you don’t have to be afraid of asking for something (like an email address) in exchange for a discount.

Example of online coupon

This is a great technique if coupons are a part of your overall marketing strategy because it fosters an email-based relationship where your customers look forward to your promotional emails.

2. Discounts make the best coupons

According to Placed’s coupon study, 60 percent of consumers prefer discounts over other types of promotional offers like rebates, free gifts, gift cards, etc.

Basically, shoppers prefer brands to simply charge them less rather than try to add value other ways. Rebates–which are a different kind of money-saving discount–came in second place.

Experian reports that emails offering free shipping are 72 percent more effective (in terms of open and click-through rates) than emails without it, and generate 53.3 percent more revenue.

3. Build a customer loyalty program

If you plan to use discounts to drive repeat business, you might find it useful to set up a customer loyalty program. Data shows that 57 percent of consumers join loyalty programs to save money. 37 percent join loyalty programs to get free stuff.

Loyalty programs compel customers to shop at your store again in order to activate and continue to build their discounts.

Example of loyalty program

There are a lot of ways to create your own loyalty programs. On the low-tech end, you could simply create a special email list for VIP customers and send them the best offers and discounts. If possible, lock those discounts to their accounts so they can’t share them with their friends (unless those friends join the program).

If you want to get fancy, there are plenty of customer loyalty apps for Shopifyplugins for WooCommerce, and independent tools. These tools track your customers’ purchases and bestow rewards based on your system.

4. Segment your coupons

You may want to share your coupon offer with everyone, but blasting the same email to your entire list is rarely a good idea.

Blasting the same coupon offer to your entire email list is rarely a good idea.

People don’t mind emails from brands, as long as those emails are relevant. In fact, 48 percent of consumers say they want more emails, but only if they’re personalized.

Just like every other type of email, it’s important to personalize your discount offers by segmenting those emails to different customers. Segmentation outperforms non-segmentation in every metric, so you can’t ignore it.

A coupon for women’s clothes should only go to women. A discount on model airplanes should only go to model enthusiasts. You get the idea.

There are lots of ways to segment your email list, but behavior is the most powerful. It’s not the easiest to acquire, but it delivers the best ROI. A customer who buys a lot of running gear is most likely a runner. You’ll get the best return on your coupon by sending them a coupon for running gear (even better than a generic storewide discount).

5. Consider your customers’ jobs-to-be-done and your buyer personas

Before you send out a coupon, think about your customer. What kinds of discounts do they find valuable? What will entice them to buy?

To answer that, you have to consider your buyer personas and your customers’ jobs-to-be done. If you’ve done your research and conducted some customer interviews, you should have an idea of what your customers want from their shopping experience.

Naturally, it’s best to send the coupon your customers want to use. Some customers are happy to save a couple dollars or just want shipping fees waived. Some want coupons on specific products or specific combinations of products. Your customer research can give you insights into what products do discount and how.

This Public Desire email knows exactly who they’re talking to.

Public Desire Coupon Code

Track your coupon performance over time to identify the types of coupons that work the best. Add these results to your cache of knowledge about your customer.

Keep in mind, however, that not all customers want or need coupons. Sure, even wealthy people like a deal, but that doesn’t mean you’ll grow sales by giving out discounts. If your research tells you that your customers don’t use coupons to make a buying decision, then offering discounts will only hurt your bottom line.

6. Include appealing copy and visuals

When you send coupon offers to your email list, include imagery that connects your subscriber to the discount. Send images of your products, especially if you have

Example of coupon email

If you send a coupon that applies to several products, curate a selection for the email. Show three to six applicable products to get the customer thinking about how they might use the coupon.

Use the coupon’s benefit as your email subject line and heading. The details of the coupon (the code, expiration date, etc.) are important, but not top priority. For instance, a coupon for free next-day shipping might use a headline like, “Get Your Christmas Gifts Fast at No Extra Charge.”

7. Avoid coupon fatigue and brand devaluing

Coupons work, so it’s tempting to use them all the time, especially if your margins are good. But two things can happen if you give out discounts too often.

First, customers become fatigued. There’s nothing special about your coupons if a new one appears every week. Products aren’t really on sale if they’re always on sale. Customers start to ignore your emails because they know what to expect. In fact, it could also open you up to lawsuits. There’s a history of retailers being sued for running constant sales, such that the “sale” price might actually be considered “false advertising.”

Second, frequent sales devalue your brand. If you sell a product for $50 and offer a 10% off discount every other week, then that product isn’t really worth $50. It’s only worth $45. Even if it’s not on sale right now, your customers know they only have to wait awhile to get the deal.

How often should you send coupons? That depends on your brand and your customers, but we don’t recommending offering sales more than once per month.

8. Create a sense of urgency

Every coupon you’ve ever seen probably had an expiration date. Why? Because we like things more when there are less of them or they’re only available for a short time. In fact, people tend to value things higher when they’re limited.

Email marketing coupon - urgency

Limit your coupons in some way to encourage customers to make a purchasing decision sooner. You might use an expiration date or limit the stock. Here’s a big list of scarcity examples to inspire your email campaigns.

9. Bigger isn’t always better

Many brands make the mistake of assuming that bigger discounts are always better. If a coupon didn’t perform well, they serve up a bigger coupon.

Most consumers use discounts as part of their buying process. It’s not as simple as “I’ll save $5, so I must buy it.” They consider other things, like the product’s quality, how badly they need it, how much they like it, etc.

If a coupon doesn’t work, resist the urge to double-down. Instead, ask why your customers didn’t respond, how the coupon could be adjusted (if at all), and how it fits into your overall marketing strategy.

Drive sales with coupons thoughtfully

While coupons aren’t right for every brand, they’re effective for most. They’re great ways to attract new customers (who might be leery about trying your products) and retaining old ones. If you design your email coupons carefully, they’re powerful tools to drive sales.

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