I’ve always had mixed feelings about coupon codes. On the one hand, they’re a fairly simple and convenient way to implement email promotions for subsets of your customers. On the other hand, they have some major downsides.

First, forcing customers to remember codes is clumsy and violates a basic usability principle: don’t force visitors to rely on their memories. (Sure, they might be able to copy and paste rather than remember, but that’s still forcing them to do too much work.)

Second, for customers who don’t have a coupon, the coupon field acts as a disincentive to check out. The coupon blatantly announces that other customers are being offered a better deal!

I’ve noticed that some retailers try to minimize the impact of this second problem by making the coupon field more subtle. But really, how silly is that? You’re just making it harder for those who do have a coupon.

A better solution is to eliminate the coupon altogether, and let your system do the work. I encountered a good example of this recently, implemented by www.homedecorators.com.

I was shopping for a new TV stand. I’d even added one to my cart (just to check the shipping charges) but didn’t follow through with the purchase.

A few days later, I received an email from homedecorators.com offering $30 off any TV stand. A good follow-up, but the best part was the implementation: there was no “coupon code” to be found. I simply clicked the special promotional link in the email, and the “coupon” was automatically applied to my shopping cart.

What a great solution. I didn’t have to remember (or even copy and paste) some cryptic code. And that coupon field that alienates coupon-less shoppers? It’s not needed.

I suppose we’ll never get rid of coupon codes/fields entirely. But this system of automatically applying email promotions is a great first step.