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Coupons & COVID-19 – Top Discounting Strategies That Convert Like Crazy
Julia Gaj
Julia Gaj
February 2, 2021
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Coupons & COVID-19 – Top Discounting Strategies That Convert Like Crazy

Modern problems require modern solutions. While this sentiment rings true, sometimes, good old marketing strategies are the most effective weapon in any digital marketer’s arsenal. And is there anything older and more fool-proof than a discount?

The commerce has experienced a ground-breaking shock brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time in history, we observed how retail shops deal with a challenging market situation. Numerous lockdowns forced customers to shop online. Shopify says the number of new online stores worldwide on its platform increased by 20% in the last two weeks of March 2020.

Common Thread

While both traditional and online shopping got quite a hit, the digital world managed to get back on its feet much quicker. Why? The wide offer of discounts and promo codes sustained sales for ecommerce platforms. Retail stores have also done a lot to stay afloat by increasing the number of promotions and attractive offers, which lead to the booming interest in online shopping, a much safer solution during the raging pandemic.  

What makes coupons a fantastic COVID recovery strategy? In short, discounts allow brands to show they care while staying within reach of price-aware customers with tighter than usual budgets

With this post, I want to offer you a glimpse into the most effective coupon campaigns in times of market uncertainty caused by COVID-19.

Here are my top coupon campaigns for post-pandemic ecommerce:

  • Coupons for essential workers
  • BOGO promotions
  • Purchase frequency coupons
  • Flash sales
  • Free shipping coupons 
  • Partner coupons
  • Mobile-friendly incentives


Coupon offers for essential workers

Among classic flash sales and BOGO deals, the COVID-19 also popularized gated offers and CSR-boosted coupon codes for hospital staff and first responders (e.g., police, firefighters, etc.). 

Adidas did it. Lenovo did it as well. You can do it too. Offering special discounts and coupons to essential workers during the pandemic significantly reinforces customer loyalty to your brand and makes your company the obvious choice when shopping. Besides direct benefits related to boost in customer loyalty and CSR, providing deals for those fighting on the pandemic front line is just the right thing to do. 

When talking about brand loyalty, I can’t skip the fact that the pandemic shifted customer behavior to more value-oriented. This means that customers are more likely than ever to choose the competitor’s offer if your product is unavailable or on the pricier side. This is true for both B2C and B2B brands. That’s why you may experience a significant drop in customer advocacy and fewer customers coming back to purchase from you. Coupon offers are a safer bet than loyalty campaigns during turbulent times like these

Coming up with the incentive and copy for essential workers-only coupons is pretty straightforward, but user identification can pose a bigger challenge, depending on your tech resources. Luckily, there are tools like SheerID or that can help you with this task. You can also base the discount on email domains like Beryl, a ride-sharing company, did for their COVID-19 campaign. 

BOGO coupon campaigns to get rid of old stock

During the COVID-19 crisis, many retailers struggled to keep their shelves stocked. Panic buying, logistical bottlenecks, and shifting customer behavior only aggravated the problem with logistics. Fortunately, coupon campaigns can successfully mitigate the issue of old stock taking up warehouse space.

BOGO campaigns (Buy-One-Get-One-Free) are still one of the most popular coupon incentives to date. 

BOGO promotions are an excellent way to boost your cross-selling and up-selling incentives or to move products that do not sell well on their own. If the pandemic caused your warehouse to fill up with swimwear or camping equipment, you could offer some of it for free for some orders. BOGO campaigns work well with the minimum order value requirement – customers are likely to pay a bit more in exchange for a gift. A true win-win. You save on warehouse space, and your average order volume rises while customers are happy with their free product.

Purchase frequency-based coupons

The pandemic caused quite a commotion when it comes to brand loyalty. As customers recalibrate their brand preferences, businesses need to either win back old or retain new customers. To stay on top of customers’ minds and keep them engaged throughout more extended periods, you could offer coupon campaigns that increase in value with each new purchase. This type of incentive encourages repeat sales by providing a tangible reward for shopping with your brand. For example, you could offer 10% off for the first order, 20% for the second, and 30% for the third purchase. 

In the long run, you should also think about building a loyalty program to show appreciation to your high-value customers. 

(Not so much) flash sales

Flash sales are a fantastic way to spotlight your brand and push customers to purchase sooner. However, you must keep in mind that COVID-19 created a unique retail environment where flash promotions don’t always work due to out-of-stock and logistical issues. To ease customers’ frustration with broken supply chains, you may consider extending your flash sales expiration date. You can also invest more time in your sales copy to infuse it with implied urgency (by using words like “today” or “now) to nudge customers to take action. This way, you won’t modify your offers to expire in a predefined timeframe, lessening the burden of maintaining promotions for your tech and marketing teams. 

Free shipping

Have you ever put something in your cart and seen that little message “Add $X to your order to get free shipping?” How did that affect your behavior? From my own experience, I’ve looked at my Amazon cart and thought, “Ok, what else do I need?”

In the cut-throat environment of online retail aggravated by the pandemic, you need to look in every nook and cranny to find a market advantage. Free shipping is a perfect promotional strategy to get a leg up on your competition and encourage more conversions and better sales results. If we analyze the free shipping phenomenon from a psychological perspective, we see that this type of promotion splits customers into two groups – low and high spenders. While high spenders see free shipping as a most welcome convenience, low spenders will perceive free shipping as compelling enough to get their carts up to the target price. The trick here is that customers at the end may spend more just to feel the gratification of receiving the delivery for free. 

Besides free shipping coupons, you can think of coming up with more favorable return policies. Giants like Amazon or Zalando are already winning customers’ hearts with fast and free delivery, long return times, and free return shipping. If you also want to capitalize on the sudden ecommerce wave, your services need to match the long-standing online players’ level. You can personalize your coupons based on the returns history to offer special deals to damage-control unsatisfied customers or reward those who haven’t returned an item in a predetermined time. 

Partner coupons 

It comes as no surprise that the pandemic was especially challenging for small and medium companies with a minimal online presence. If you are such a business, you could reach out to other brands that offer complementary products to yours and offer some cross-promotion with coupons for your services. For instance, if you offer hair accessories, you could reach out to hair cosmetics brands or hair salons. 

On the other hand, if your company was spared the dire consequences of the 2020 health crisis, you could reach out to small merchants and offer them a partnership as well. This way, you get to help small local businesses in your area and develop an attractive promotional offer for your audience. Moreover, with this kind of join coupon campaign, you extend your business’s reach by being exposed to a wholly new market niche.

Mobile-friendly coupons

As people in increasing numbers shop with their smartphones, they demand that every part of the purchase journey is mobile-ready. How does this fact connect to coupons? If you have already learned how to use responsive emails with coupons, it is time for the next step – boosting the coupon redemption experience with QR codes. By providing codes in two formats (text and QR), you ensure that your discounts can be redeemed online and offline. That’s the first step to make your coupons mobile-ready. 

Besides QR codes, you can also extend your coupon delivery channel to include text messages and push notifications. Why? Emails are not the best channel to instantly capture customers’ attention and trigger quick interactions. Mobile delivery channels pair well with geolocation-based coupon offers and allow you to react to specific user activities or conditions quickly, such as extreme weather or inactivity. 

There are various coupon strategies to help you push your coupon strategy forward. Wherever you are with your digital transformation, coupons can help you personalize your messaging, experiment with new delivery channels, and optimize the promotional budget in a turbulent market. 


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