Personalized Coupons and the Science of Demand

As marketers gather more information about their customers, direct marketing gets more interesting. The amount of customer purchase data available nowadays is staggering.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the personalized coupons that print out along with your receipt at the grocery store. And many of you have probably received personalized coupons in the mail, as well. I know I do – I’ve started to get coupons in the mail from Meijer, where I buy most of my groceries.

On the one hand, this is really cool – no more clipping coupons from the newspaper inserts! Personalized coupons for stuff I actually buy – how awesome is that?

But there’s a problem. The coupons are clearly based on past purchase behavior.

Why is this a problem, you ask? After all, don’t you WANT coupons for stuff you’ve bought before?

Yes and no. Here’s an example. A few weeks ago, I bought a new laundry basket for my son. I’d guess most of us buy laundry baskets only once every few years. But what shows up in my mailbox last week? A coupon for $2 off a laundry basket – and the coupon expires in 30 days, no less. Nice try, but no dice.

I’ve gotten tons of coupons like this. Coupons for cereal I just bought – and I have to buy 4 boxes to get the savings. Even with teenagers in the house, we don’t eat THAT much cereal. Coupons for zip-top bags that I just bought by the hundreds. You get the picture. I don’t have enough storage space for all the stuff these retailers expect me to stock up on.

So what does this rant have to do with search? One of the things I love best about search is that it fulfills customer demand at the right time. No one searches for laundry baskets AFTER they just bought one – they search BEFORE they get ready to buy. THAT’S when I want the coupon. I want it before, not after!

It seems to me that it wouldn’t be that hard to do. I know Meijer has years of purchase history on me, because I’ve shopped there forever. And honestly, as big brother-ish as it seems, I’d rather they review my purchase history, figure out the patterns, and send me coupons at just the right time. How hard can that possibly be? Until retailers figure this out, we search marketers have it made.

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Comments

  1. I agree.

    Talking about coupons and customer behaviour, you should read the following article:-

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2

  2. I'll be sharing your article with some clients! This is a super important point to understand for search marketing. We are not trying to create demand for our product/service, we are simply grabbing the attention of someone who mostly knows what they want.

    Sometimes it's hard to explain that just because someone searches for hot dogs, it doesn't mean with a well crafted ad they would hamburgers because it is food too.

  3. It's funny – I hadn't even seen the NYT article when I wrote this, but it's indeed very timely! Gotta love coincidence.

  4. It was a coincidence I couldn't ignore, I'd just read the NYT article about 3 minutes before I saw yours (and who would have believed that that some companies go that far..)

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