For most retailers, the name of the game is convenience. It doesn't matter what they sell or what channel they do it through; the maxim holds that, if the checkout process is free from as much friction as possible, shoppers will hit fewer speed bumps and take fewer U-turns along the way.
But what's convenient for a retailer doesn't always align with what's convenient for its consumers, as Amazon so gently reminded shoppers in May when it stopped processing refunds for all but the most expensive items that had undergone pricing adjustments after purchase. Conventional retail wisdom would seem to recommend against a move that introduces more risk into the consumer's purchasing decision, but Amazon has shown that conventionality doesn't always pay.
For that matter, retailers are seeming to realize, neither do coupons. At least not how they used to be.
While it didn't exactly light fires around the retail blogosphere, Target's recent decision to adjust how its in-store cashiers apply coupons could have major implications for the industry at large. As reported by Coupons in the News on Monday (July 11), Target pushed a brand-wide software update to its POS systems that removed the K1 key associates often used to "push through" a coupon when the normal system parameters would not otherwise allow it. The old system left some wiggle room for intrepid couponers — a voucher for a specific item could be punched in with the K1 key as applicable for any product from the same brand.
A casual observer might think that a retailer protecting itself from those kinds of inadvertent overages would have sufficient grounds to do away with the K1 key in its stores. However, a Target spokesperson pitched the change from a different angle — added convenience for consumers.
"We want to ensure coupons are easy for our guests to redeem and seamless for our team members to process," the Target spokesperson told The Consumerist. “This policy is consistent with how we already handle Target-specific coupons.”
Less control over the application of coupons is a hard sell to any shopper but potentially less so if retailers can actually convince them that it'll make their lives easier. There it is again — the adherence to frictionless checkouts as the pinnacle of retail success.
It's an approach that many brands have taken towards in-store consumers glued to their phones. Target overhauled its own mobile app a few months ago to integrate functionality for digital coupon clipping, and Walgreens, too, has been busy building direct pipelines from coupon discovery to in-checkout application into its in-store app. Both upgrades emphasize the ease with which consumers can tap a coupon and have it automatically applied to participating products, and Walgreens' app will even notify shoppers if the item they're looking for comes with a coupon they've yet to select.
But with all this hand-holding replacing the entrepreneurial spirit that used to come with sitting around a kitchen table cutting up a circular, are retailers changing the very nature of the coupon itself? Consumers acclimated themselves to the reality of coupons decades ago. If they wanted a better deal on something, they'd have to put in the time and effort to locate the coupon wherever it may be and bring that to the retailer as proof. Now, though, retailers' insistence on controlling more of the couponing process has inadvertently shifted the onus of starting that process onto merchants as well. When shoppers are hungry for a deal, they only get to eat if brands deliver the right ones at the right times.
And once retailers are doling out coupons like candy, do they cease to be the temptations to buy they once were?