The Promo Code field could be costing Sears’ e-commerce $16M a month

Promotion Code FieldWhen looking to improve performance of an e-commerce site, one of the best places to start looking is at the bottom of your checkout funnel. If a shopper has gone to all the trouble to discover products, put them in their shopping cart, and begin the checkout process, you know they have buying intent.  So you need to find any elements of the customer experience that might be tripping them up at the end of that process.

One of the most common mistakes I see in e-commerce checkout flows is a Promotion Code Field that is too prominent. The Promo Code field is an important utility, and you want to make sure it’s easy for users to find and use, but you also want to be sure it’s not inadvertently interrupting the checkout flow for a large group of shoppers.

The mistake I see most often is displaying an empty Promo Code box for the user to fill out.  The challenge is we’ve all been conditioned since birth that when we see a form, we should fill it out.  So even though most users start your checkout process with no intention of using a promo code, when they get to that field, leaving it empty simply feels wrong.

Shopping Cart

Sears is an example of a typical shopping cart review page with a prominent Promo Code field.

You can almost hear the user thinking, “oh my gosh, I should have found a promo code before I started shopping. I’m not going to get the same deal that everyone else on this site is getting.”  And far too often, the next thing they do is leave your site, head to a search engine, and start looking for a promotion code.

Once they leave your site, there is a good chance they aren’t coming back.  You need to know how often this might be happening on your site.

Google Traffic on Promo Code

The first place to look is your own click-path analytics.  How often is that shopping cart review the exit page for your site?  Another approach is to use Google Keyword Tool (now part of the Google Adwords Toolset) to get an idea of how many searches it sees.  In the case of Sears, users are searching for “Sears Promo Code” 110,000 times a month.  Assuming an average order value of $150, that is $16.5M of revenue a month Sears is putting at risk!

Promo Code SERP

Once customers leave your site for their favorite search engine, nothing good can happen.  Most often they’ll find an affiliate site that aggregates promotion codes, such as couponcabin or retailmenot.  The best case scenario from that point? Your customer would find a valid promo code and come back to your site with a new affiliate link, resulting in a much lower gross margin sale for you.  Even worse, they may find a promo code from one of your competitors, or simply not be able to find their way back to your site.

Retailmenot SERP

The solution is to make “Promotion Code” a link instead of a blank field.  When the customer clicks that link, you’ d use an expanded section of the page to reveal a promo code field, or pop-up a modal to let the user enter their code.  Target and Zappos both use this approach.

Target Promo Code Field

Another alternative is to help them find a promo code on your site.  You can have a banner with a shipping promotion in it, or offer a link taking shoppers to a page on your site that lists valid promotions.  OfficeMax uses a good example of this tactic.

Oficemax Promo Code

The bottom line is to make sure shoppers with a promo code are able to use it, while making sure you aren’t sending shoppers with a high purchase intent off your site.


  1. They should also have a page on-site optimized for Brand + coupons/promos/codes/etc. Zappos also does this well.

  2. Great point Jason. The Zappos example is particularly interesting because Zappos doesn’t generally distribute coupons, so their page is optimized for SEO and then explains why you don’t need a coupon at Zappos I particularly like that on their optimized page they helpfully include a list of common search permissions (obviously to get indexed for all of them).

    Sadly for Zappos, retailmenot still has better page rank and get’s the top SERP ranking, forcing Zappos to buy an ad on retailmenot.

    The more typical example is when a retailer aggregates all the deals on their own site, and optimizes that page to rank well, such as Macy’s

  3. I dont see couponcabin ranking anywhere at all, why you mention a site which can’t be found anywhere? Are you promoting them?

    • Hi Peter, I don’t have any association with CouponCabin and I’m certainly not promoting them. In fact, the whole point of this article is to help e-commerce sites keep their visitors on their own sites and away from promocode aggregators like them.

      I used two examples of aggregators, RetailmeNot and CouponCabin, which in my experience are the most popular aggregators of codes for the e-commerce sites I work with. You are correct that CouponCabin does not rank well in SEO (so is presumably getting it’s traffic through it’s own direct marketing efforts), but the other example I used RetailMeNot ranks VERY high for most retail promo code searches. I should have made it more clear, but my point is that I DONT want shoppers leaving your e-commerce site to go search for a promo code!

  4. Manin Kulkarni says

    Any disruption during the check out process means possible loss of sale. Unless the promotion codes are based on combination of products purchased, why not offer these codes proactively when the user is adding products to shopping cart, gives a rich experience to the user.

    • While I certainly agree that we want to avoid disruptions during checkout wherever possible, we still need to support the common use-cases that shoppers will have in the checkout. I.E. It’s a distribution to make the shopper choose from amongst multiple payment types, but if we eliminated that disruption by only offering one, too many shoppers wouldn’t get their needs met.

      In the same way, most sites have a variety of important use cases for user entered promo codes, and the strong convention that users are familiar with is to use them at checkout. So for many of the sites I work with, we couldn’t get away with not supporting them in the checkout flow.

      There are a few different categories of promotions e-commerce sites typically offer and the semantics vary widely from platform to platform. In hybris for example a “Voucher” is a discrete code that a shopper gets (usually off-site) that they then have to proactively use in the checkout process via a “Promo Field” as described in this article. Some sites try to avoid vouchers by using custom URLs, etc… but the “Promo Code” is a pretty common convention that is well understood by shoppers. In hybris a “Promotion” is something that is automatically triggered and applied based on user behavior on-site (no manual code entry required). IBM has a third type called a “coupon” that is attached to a specific registered user, and is applied to a shopping cart via a digital wallet.

      What I’m talking about here is the “Voucher” style promotion, where the code may have been issued via an off-site marketing event like a reward for completing a survey or even an off-line event like at the bottom of a receipt from a store,

      Does that make sense?

  5. Many e-commerce websites offer a variety of sales, coupons. So, the coupon code could not be selected and copied — users had to memorize. Include coupon-code fields as a core part of both the shopping cart and checkout pages.


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