Misleading Coupons Hurt Loyalty

My cousin went to Lord & Taylor expecting to use a 20% coupon. After finding a bathing suit that she wanted to buy, she went to checkout.

The sales rep, however, said that the coupon did not work for her order. They called over the supervisor who insisted that the coupon could not be used for bathing suits. Even after several minutes, the supervisor could not explain where it said that bathing suits were not included. The sale rep was nice about the situation, agreeing that it was misleading after the supervisor left. But my cousin had to pay full price for the bathing suit.

The experience was so problematic that my cousin told me about it (and she probably told other people as well).

My take: I’ve included a copy of the coupon below. Take a look at the wording. Even with the closest reading of the fine print, it does not seem to say that bathing suits aren’t included. 

There were two significant problems with this interaction: 

  • Misleading wording. Despite the large font claiming “Storewide Savings,” it has so much fine print that it’s very hard to understand. And the implementation of the coupon in the store does not seem to match how it’s worded.
  • Unempowered employees. Even after realizing that the policy was wrong, the salesperson did not have the ability to override the system. She should have been able to give my cousin the 20% discount.

Unfortunately, these problems aren’t unique to Lord & Taylor. Too many retailers still try to lure customers into their stores with less than clear promotions. This type of experience may drive short-term traffic, but it doesn’t create loyal customers.  

The bottom line: Incremental sales aren’t worth the cost of loyalty.

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

14 Responses to Misleading Coupons Hurt Loyalty

  1. Jed says:

    It says ladies swimwear under departments is included…

  2. dbkayanda says:

    In all fairness, it does say “ladies’ swimware” under excluded departments. But that doesn’t take away from your main point: storewide savings that exclude more than 50% of the store are de facto misleading and are more likely to cause irritation than pleasure.

  3. Bruce Temkin says:

    Jed and dbkayanda: Thanks for your comments. And, together, you proved one of the problems. The coupon certainly mentions ladies swimware, but one of you read it as being included in the sale and the other read it as being excluded from the sale — true evidence of misleading language.

    As I read the coupon, it certainly does not explicitly exclude ladies swimware, although I can see how Lord & Taylor may have meant it to exclude that area.

    In any case, if Lord & Taylor is excluding all of those departments listed at the bottom of the coupon, then it seems a stretch to call it a “Storewide Savings Pass” in such big type.

  4. Peter says:

    Best Buy is famous for this type of coupon confusion strategy.

  5. Dell used to do a poor job with coupons/rebates as well. They got hammered for having a short redemption period. Eventually, with enough consumer outcry, things change.

    Perhaps Lord & Taylor will get with the program.

    But even if they don’t, it seems like the employees could do the “right thing.” Companies that treat customer engagments like “bait and switch” campaigns deserve what they get in terms of customer loyalty — none. For more: http://budurl.com/bl4y

  6. Apparently Lord &Taylor management geniuses have not heard of two important concepts:

    The Lifetime Value of a Customer
    Social Networking

    This one incident is now on the blogosphere for all to see and for most, would dissuade a potential new L& T customer. You just have to wonder how management is so ignorant today about Customer Delight and the power of Social Media.

  7. abhatti says:

    I think if people use more efficient coupon tools they’ll be able to save a lot of time. For example, if you use RivePoint (www.rivepoint.com) you’ll be able to get Lord & Taylor coupons on your phone and if they don’t accept it at least you don’t have to feel bad about going thru the whole process of cutting, clipping and saving the coupon only to get depressed later when it doesn’t work.

  8. Bruce Temkin says:

    Hi everyone: Great conversation. I didn’t write the post to go after Lord & Taylor specifically, since they are not the only ones guilty of this practices. But there are definitely lessons to learn (for companies and consumers) which have come up in your comments. Thanks!

  9. Lesley Grossblatt says:

    Bottom line, it’s certainly not storewide.

  10. Dano says:

    Sadly ULTA does this as well. “20% OFF” with a coupon that excludes pretty much anything you can buy there.

  11. iherb coupon says:

    Some of these coupons are just not worthwhile i agree but theres also alot of very good coupons that do save you money you just need to pick and choose

  12. Corinne Waldrep says:

    Great Post! Keep up the good work. I have found another great discounts coupons site that I would like to recommend. It’s really awesome. Check it out :P

  13. Nate Mizelle says:

    Yeah, the coupon does clearly state that it excludes Ladies’ swimwear.
    It says “This coupon excludes:” and then lists all that stuff below.

    True, coupons are confusing, but wouldn’t this be better than a two page long coupon on everything it DID include? Too many customers blame the store for their own inability to understand. A false sense of entitlement is ruining America.

  14. Yes, always read the small print. It’s so easy to get caught out! Mind you sometimes the small print can be very confusing.

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