Online Marketing: When is a Deal Not a Deal?

online marketingTo coupon or not to coupon? That is the question!

First of all, we apologize for our butchery of the words of William Shakespeare. Second, we apologize for using “coupon” as a verb. May our high school English teachers forgive us for both sins!

Apologies aside, the use of coupons—specifically online coupons—to increase business has exploded. Groupon, arguably the best known of the online coupon companies boasted 13 million subscribers in 29 countries in August of 2010.  There are tons of other online deal offers out there—many at the local level—that are stirring up a frenzy among bargain hunters. Let’s face it: Consumers love a deal! But when is a deal not a deal . . . for the small business owner?

Often small businesses have to offer something at a pretty deep discount. The idea is that even though they are not making much (if anything) on an individual sale, they are exposing the public to their business. They are counting on the return business (at regular prices) to pay for the initial investment. As a small business owner, you have to ask yourself if the customers you attract with your deep discounts are likely to return once the price returns to normal. If what you are selling is so good and so unique that you know people will be back—this may be a winning proposition for you. If you’re selling the same thing as the guy down the street, chances are that people are only buying from you because it’s cheaper with the coupon. Let the seller beware!

There are some other factors to consider before jumping on the online coupon bandwagon. If you are a small business and you suddenly get a huge influx of business, will you be able to meet the demand? There are horror stories out there about stores that closed their doors on customers because they simply couldn’t meet the demand. That ends up hurting your reputation rather than enhancing it. So make sure you can handle the increase.

And if your coupon drives traffic to your website, will your site be able to handle it? Some smaller businesses don’t have really robust systems for handling orders or inquiries. If your site crashes or if it takes you a long time to respond to inquiries, that’s not going to help your business. It could, in fact, hurt you.

“To coupon or not to coupon?” None of the things mentioned mean you shouldn’t try it. Just make sure you are prepared before you unleash the bargain-hunting hounds on your business!