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Online Customer Experience: The Plot Thickens With Coupon Codes

If there is one place that retailers have complete control of the online customer experience it’s their websites. That’s the traditional view, but the reality, says Clean.io Chief Marketing Officer Kathleen Booth is quite different. “While we might own our website, we don’t really fully control it,” says Kathleen. “And the reason for that has to do with the way the modern internet works. There’s a ton of third-party code on our websites, specifically third-party coupons.”

Third-party coupons can derail positive online customer experiences and even muddy marketing attribution data, adds Kathleen. She spoke on the latest episode of Retail Uncharted with Sidecar’s Senior Director of Growth Mike Perekupka about how marketers can take back control of their websites by limiting harmful browser extensions. She also provides advice for building exceptional customer experiences online, drawing from her 15 years of marketing experience.

During the podcast, Mike asks:

  • During your career is there a marketing or technology trend that took you by surprise?
  • How big of a problem are third-party coupons for retailers?
  • How do third-party coupons negatively impact the online customer experience?
  • What can retailers do to make sure the right marketing activities are being credited with a sale?
  • How can marketers weed out inaccurate marketing attribution data?
  • What are some of the technologies retailers need to embrace to ensure they’re providing a positive customer experience online?
  • What do you anticipate will be a new, significant trend in online marketing in the next 2-3 years?

Top Sound Bites

On the importance of great content in retail marketing:

Kathleen: If I had to narrow it down to what I think is the most impactful thing in marketing that I’ve seen in my many, many years, it’s probably people realizing the power that content has. And not just content itself, but content really done well, and with personality behind it, and with purpose and brand. Companies that create really world-class content stand in a class of their own. 

When I first got into marketing that was just in its very nascent stages, and I feel as though that has blossomed over the years. Now creating content has become very much table stakes for all kinds of companies. But what separates the men from the boys these days, is people who check the box of content and people who really understand that investing in and making content great is a game changer.

On the challenge of browser extensions on retailers’ sites:

Kathleen: Browser extensions, because I added them, have an elevated level of permission to run script on the sites I visit. That’s how they work. So in 99% of cases, that extension that’s running a script on your site is probably benign, but in some cases it’s not and that really alerted us to the issue or the challenge, in particular, that online retailers face with coupon extensions.

I was familiar with them as a user, as a shopper. Everybody likes a discount, and coupon extensions make it very easy to get them. I really had never given enough thought to looking under the surface as far as how these extensions get the codes they share and really what impact it has on retailers. As soon as I became aware of that, it was like this light went off, and I thought, “Wow, this is a huge deal. It’s got major implications for the future of online retail.”

On how third-party coupons can cost retailers revenue:

Kathleen: Coupon extensions make it really easy to activate coupons at the bottom of the funnel. What it means is they’re no longer driving new customer acquisition, which is what coupons were originally intended for. Now what they’re doing, hopefully, if they’re doing their job right, is reducing cart abandonment or increasing conversions once somebody’s on the site. 

That is a great reason to like coupon extensions, if you believe a couple of things. One, if you believe that they truly do positively impact conversions or they reduce abandonment. Two, if you believe that a new customer who comes in using a coupon extension will then become a loyal, repeat customer, and you will make the money back downstream that you lose on the discount and potentially on the affiliate fees that you pay the coupon extension. And three, if you believe that they will not consistently be a discount driven customer. So there are a lot of assumptions going into what makes coupon extensions good marketing partners or channels.

There are also other issues inherent in it. When you start to dig below the surface, what you begin to realize is that, because these extensions come in at what I would term the eleventh hour, when somebody’s already at checkout, they’ve already expressed high purchase intent. You’ve probably already spent quite a bit of money to get that customer to that point. You may have run a Facebook ad that brought them to your site; you might have nurtured them via email. There are a ton of micro-conversions that lead someone to the point where they get to check out, and where they’re ready to buy.

The coupon extension then comes in and drops the first-party cookie when it executes, and it overrides all your attribution data and claims credit. If a Facebook ad brought someone in or if an email campaign brought someone in, all of a sudden, the extension is overriding that attribution data and claiming credit for the sale, whether or not they found a valid coupon.

On the technology that supports great online customer experiences:

Kathleen: When I get to a website, I feel like live chat is table stakes. I just experienced this last night. It was at 10 o’clock last night. I had to, for a variety of reasons, use a last-minute hotel booking website. Something kind of glitchy happened in the course of making the reservation, and I completed the reservation, and paid for it, but then I needed to talk to somebody to fix one aspect. All over the website it said, “We provide 24/7 support.”

Then I went to click the link for support, and it took me to an FAQ page, with no link to live support. I was tweeting them, and I was like, “What’s the deal? It’s 11 o’clock at night, I have to fix this right now, because somebody is checking in in an hour. That’s a huge point of friction, so you really have to be mindful about how you’re going to approach support. If you say you’re going to deliver, live chat or human interaction 24/7, you better fulfill it.

I do think it’s important to deliver that real-time answers because customers have other choices in most cases, there are very few cases where they can’t find a similar product somewhere else.