Editor’s Notes: Not-so-secret Discounts
The spirit of sharing was alive and well this past holiday season, but not in the way some marketers might have expected. Retailers often reward their employees with “friends-and-family” discount promotions meant to bring in a little more business and allow employees to help their loved ones do their holiday shopping. But as companies extend these discounts to online and phone orders via promotion codes that don’t require the remittance of a paper coupon, the far-reaching hand of e-mail has turned these efforts into friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend discounts.
In a Dec. 3 article in The Wall Street Journal (“The Discounts You Aren’t Meant to Have”), reporter Michelle Wiggins wrote that a few companies, including Lacoste and Banana Republic, were not thrilled that their friends-and-family promotions went public. They argued that they already run sales events for regular shoppers; this type of promotion is meant to be a special gift to their employees.
But as I see it, competition for holiday spending money is pretty tight. Having access to these select promotions feels like getting a better deal than the sales in the stores. Wiggins’ article reports that many retailers like the ability to promote a sales event without having to post in-store signage that makes them look like bargain basements.
I received at least five friends-and-family promotions this past season, and only one came directly from a person who worked at the store offering the discount. And while I did not take advantage of any of the discounts offered to me, just the receipt of the discount promotion from Banana Republic got me to browse the merchant’s Web site in search of the perfect present. Without it, I might not have given Banana Republic a second look this year.
At least one company clearly did not mind if its e-mail promotion became a viral marketing blowout. Restoration Hardware encouraged recipients of its friends-and-family offer to “share the wealth.” In fact, it offered the 20-percent discount across all channels—store, online and phone.
I’m inclined to believe that Restoration Hardware’s generosity toward all shoppers does more good for the multichannel retailer than putting friends-and-family discounts under lock and key.