If you’re a shopper using a coupon online, how can you be sure you’re really getting a deal? And if you’re a seller offering a coupon online, how can you be sure you’re not offering a deal you’ll soon regret? Two online retailers are making changes to the way their coupons work – one that favors buyers, the other that will help out sellers.

Beginning today, Amazon is introducing new coupon requirements for third-party sellers, to help assure shoppers that they’re getting a real deal. In the past, sellers might have been able to set an artificially-high “regular” price so they could offer a coupon for, say, half off and claim it was a great deal – even though they had never sold any items at that fake “original” price.

Now, Amazon says, sellers will need to show they’ve actually sold a significant number of products at “regular” price in order to be eligible to run a coupon offer. And they can’t then raise their “regular” price in order to offer a fake discount. Instead, any coupon offer must result in a price that’s lower than the actual previous selling price.

“In some cases this means new products will not be eligible right away” to offer coupons, an Amazon representative explained on a message board for Amazon sellers. As to when exactly a product’s sales history will be sufficient before a seller can offer a coupon, “unfortunately I don’t have specifics,” the company representative said, beyond noting that “you will no longer receive the ‘Reference Price error’ message when creating coupons.”

The change, Amazon explained to sellers, is “to improve the coupons experience to build customer trust and, in turn, an even better selling experience for you.”

Etsy is also working to improve the coupon experience – for its sellers, if not necessarily for some of their most deal-hungry customers. “Coming soon,” the online marketplace announced recently, “expiration dates for your offers. To encourage buyers to take advantage of your deals, soon shoppers will have limited time to use ‘abandoned cart’ and ‘thank you’ offers. We’ll also make sure they can’t reuse or share your codes.”


It may seem odd for anyone familiar with how most coupons work, but until now, Etsy coupons created by sellers never expire. Sellers can create a coupon, set the value, decide who gets it, but they haven’t been able to do something so simple as to create an end date for the offer. “It is good forever unless you end it,” an Esty seller explained in an online forum. “The only option is to cancel/deactivate the coupon,” another seller explained. “Of course, no one can then use it.”

So if a seller sends out a “thank you” coupon to a buyer to encourage them to make another purchase, that buyer can use it as many times as they’d like. Or they can share it with friends. Or it can get scooped up by an online coupon aggregator and become available to anyone at all. If the seller cancels the coupon, then anyone who only recently received it will be upset to find they can’t use it.

“I simply have more important things to do than constantly try to remember” to cancel coupons on a regular basis, “and then set up another one for this week,” one seller complained. “It is just not an efficient use of time and is a lose/lose for sellers and customers.”

But now, the company is listening and sellers are pleased. “It’s definitely encouraging to see our feedback isn’t just being ignored outright,” one seller commented, though details of how Etsy will prevent the reuse and sharing of coupon codes were not immediately explained.

(March 17 update: Etsy officially announced “new expiration dates to help buyers seize the deal,” explaining that “buyers will have 60 days to use abandoned cart offers, and 1 year for thank you offers as a default.” Some sellers have complained that’s too long, others say it’s better than nothing, and left unsaid was how the reuse and sharing of codes will be prevented, or whether sellers would someday be able to set expiration dates for coupons they create on their own.)

In the end, the coupon changes at two of the country’s largest online marketplaces are aimed at making the process easier and more reliable for both sellers and buyers. Amazon shoppers will know they’re getting actual deals, while Etsy shoppers can rest assured that “forever coupons” won’t be putting their favorite merchants out of business. And if coupons that offer real savings and coupons with expiration dates result in better deals for everyone – then that’s something buyers and sellers alike should be able to agree on.

Image source: Mockupr/Amazon/Etsy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Privacy Policy
Disclosure Policy