Why your promo codes suck and (how you can fix it)

Promo code errors screw up your conversion rates. SessionCam’s Chief Product Officer, Richard Churchill, draws on data from thousands of visitor sessions to show you how to get it right.

Do your promo codes deliver that delicious dopamine? (Photo by Ryan McGuire)

Humans love getting a good deal. It’s built into our brain chemistry — we get a delightful dopamine hit not when we get a reward but in anticipation of one.

That’s one reason why promo codes are so appealing. They’re the promise of a something good for less than we expected to pay. The problem is your promo code process is almost certainly disappointing your potential customers…

Poor promos kill conversions

Are your promo codes leading Pac-Man to the ghosts and not the cherries? (Photo by Ryan McGuire)

Promo codes attract website visitors who are on course to convert but after following the breadcrumb trail to your site, they’re often confronted not with a delicious loaf but a bakery that’s locked its doors.

We’ve analysed thousands of visitor sessions and our data shows that promo code errors can result in up to a 50% drop in conversion rate.

The promo code problem is even more troubling on mobile. The rate of customer struggle increases by 100% in sessions where there’s a promo code error compared to an average session. As sales on mobile continue to grow, that should really worry you.

You could sit back and say to yourself: “Well, these sessions with promo codes shouldn’t even be included in our conversion rates. After all, these are guaranteed customers who’ve already decided to buy.” But that assumption will hurt you.

Americans might forgive you though…

The doughnut promo was a startling success. (Photo by Ryan McGuire)

We categorize promo code issues as a hard error. Our data shows that visitors who run headlong into that kind of problem have a very high likelihood of abandoning their journeys completely.

Having a bad experience with a promo code directly contributes to customer drop-off.

But the effect of a painful promo code process isn’t the same the world over. Studying sessions from different territories reveals that US consumers are far more likely to still convert despite a promo code error.

America has a very established coupon culture and customers there are more used to dealing with the pitfalls of redeeming them.

European countries tend to follow a similar trend to each other. However, while it may sound like a horrible stereotype, the French stand out as being particularly intolerant to this type of irritation.

Promo code errors are 10% more likely to negatively affect the likelihood of a French consumer converting.

Forget the vultures and feed the flock

It’s buy one, get one free on worms (Photo by Ryan McGuire)

Another insight we’ve gleaned from our data is the importance of where the promo code sits in your conversion process.

The further down the funnel, the more likely it is that a promo error will lead to drop off.

Think of it like this, the longer you’ve had to stand in the queue for the nightclub, the more irritated you’ll be to be told you’re wearing the wrong shoes by the doorman.

Our research shows that promo code errors that happened near to checkout can be as much as 15% more likely to lose your customer than one that pops up at the basket step.

It’s a simple rule: The closer a visitor is to their goal, the less tolerance they have for failure. That’s why you should be comparing the effect of the UI at different stages in your buying process.

When a visitor encounters a ‘promo code doesn’t exist error’, they will typically try again. They’re received this code, they’ve never used it, so why shouldn’t it work? There are lots of other reasons why that error might have popped up but the visitor has no reason to know that.

Of course, there are the hungry vultures who scour the web for promo codes but you shouldn’t worry about them too much. It’s far more important that the bulk of your potential customers have a great experience. Why spend time putting promos together otherwise?

It’s very easy to look at your overall conversion processes and forget to focus in on areas of functionality like promo codes. Across the many use cases and industries we’ve analyzed, it’s clear that promos can be very complicated for visitors and are often overlooked for optimization.

Stop with the mixed up messages

This one’s clear: Someone has been very careless with their cat. (Photo by Ryan McGuire)

When a visitor has ‘pre-bought’, high on their dopamine hit from the promo code, they’re even more likely to expect a simple experience and suffer a big crash of disappointment.

From watching tens of thousands of journeys, we know that promo code errors provoke higher than average frustration. Our customer struggle data supports that — this error type correlates with an increase in struggle and lost conversions.

Quick question: What’s wrong with this statement — ‘Promotion code not found. Please try again.’? At first glance, you might say, ‘Nothing.’ But think again. What behavior does that message provoke?

Most visitors will try again with a slim hope that there was a mistake that’s been corrected in the seconds that passed since their last attempt. And… they’ll probably see the same error message yet again.

The promo code error hasn’t put the visitor on the path to completing their purchase. In fact, it’s diverted them from their goal. It’s a business rule — ‘We only accept valid promo codes.’ — delivered via a poor user experience.

Promo codes need love too

Give your promo code process the attention it deserves but probably not a badge. (Photo by Ryan McGuire)

You can do much better with promo codes if you see them as a big opportunity to enhance your relationship with the customer. If a code doesn’t work, almost any other action is better than pushing a visitor to enter it again and hope for the best.

One good option is giving visitors who hit a stumbling block a simple way to chat with your support team to verify their promo code. If that doesn’t work for you, give them a stronger message such as “We can’t validate your code but contact us or use it in store.”

Don’t accept dead ends

*sound of a sad trumpet* (Photo by Ryan McGuire)

Our data is really clear: If you don’t want to produce high levels of customer struggle, you have to ensure your promo code processes don’t end up being dead end experiences.

Communicating clearly when errors occur and positioning common problems earlier in the checkout process are two simple ways to vastly improve performance.

Don’t waste time laying out the breadcrumbs if you won’t let your visitors buy the bread at the end.

If you want to get better insights on what your customers are doing and why, you don’t need a promo code to try SessionCam today.

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