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Whether you blame greedy couponers, confused customers or a not-very-well-thought-out promotion, Toys “R” Us has become the latest retailer to experience a PR-disaster “coupon fail”. In such cases, when the dust settles, the store is left looking either like a villain – or a sucker.

It started this past Sunday, when the toy store chain issued a printable coupon on its website, and sent emails and texts announcing “Here’s $5 on Us!” The coupon offered “$5 off your in-store purchase” at Toys “R” Us or Babies “R” Us.

Let us analyze the mistakes that occurred after that.

Mistake number one: the $5 coupon had no minimum purchase requirement. So savvy couponers immediately realized its potential – $5 off a $5 purchase equals free stuff. If you could somehow get two coupons, that equals $10 worth of free stuff. And if you could somehow get 100 coupons…

Which leads us to mistake number two: even though the “$5 off” offer was “one-time use per guest”, it was possible to print it multiple times. But those multiple prints had the same bar codes, which Toys “R” Us cash registers are programmed to accept only once. Confused customers who were able to print multiple coupons for each “guest” in their party, found that only one of them worked.

Unless they took advantage of mistake number three: some determined couponers quickly discovered a loophole. By using different internet browsers, clearing their browsing history and cookies, they were able to get unlimited prints with different bar codes on each coupon. Using a generous interpretation of the “one-time use per guest” stipulation, one could rationalize that since each coupon printed had a unique bar code, each was only being used “one time” by said “guest”.

And along comes mistake number four: properly training staff to handle such a coupon. Reports from shoppers varied widely on what their particular stores’ cashiers and managers were allowing – some insisted on accepting one coupon only, but many others allowed multiple transactions, or even the use of multiple coupons in one transaction.

By Tuesday, Toys “R” Us pulled the coupon off its website. Mistake number five: not making clear in its initial email, that just because the coupon was valid through Thursday, that didn’t mean the coupon would be available to print through Thursday. Plenty of coupons run out of prints before their expiration date, but confused customers who didn’t print right away, showed up at the store with the email on their phone, only to find that the email’s link to the coupon no longer worked. Even some customers who did print out the coupon, reported that their stores had stopped accepting the coupon altogether.

So it all ends with mistake number six – or potential mistake, depending on how Toys “R” Us handles the fallout. Hundreds of upset customers flocked to the Toys “R” Us Facebook page to express their frustrations. “If you didn’t want to honor the coupon that you sent out, you could have at least sent out a follow up email letting everyone know that you were pulling this $5 coupon,” said one commenter. Others wrote: “I am sure you got a bigger response to the coupon than you expected but disabling it before the expiration date is bad business,” “An apology would go a long way,” and “It looks like you have very angry regular customers.”

Jos. A. Bank experienced a similar “coupon fail” last month (read: “Psst – How’d You Like a Free Suit? Or Not.”) The company responded swiftly by pulling the coupon in question and issuing a replacement with stricter stipulations. In the case of Toys “R” Us, the company has not fully commented on the matter yet, other than to tell its Facebook fans that their “comments are valued” and will be passed on to “our Marketing team for review.”

So if you weren’t able to redeem your coupon, cheer up – it could be worse. You could be working for the Toys “R” Us marketing team.


One Comment

  1. Great points. You are spot on! And I love your closing comment…made me laugh!

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