Web of offers: social media revamps concept of vouchers for online shopping
Social networking sites have revamped the concept of vouchers for online shopping, and retailers are working to maximise their value for all and generate more sales, writes John Cradden
EVEN as the online world continues to re-shape the way we shop, it's nice to know some things haven't changed, like vouchers.
Mind you, it has probably been a while since you last cut out a coupon from a newspaper or magazine to get 30c off a can of baked beans, or remembered to bring those Tesco vouchers for your weekly shop.
But if you do your shopping online, chances are you will come across e-voucher codes. So, how do you use them?
"As with anything, it helps to know who to ask and where to find them," says Darragh Doyle, communications manager at online forum Boards.ie.
There are a variety of ways, it seems, but among the easiest is look up your favourite retailers on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and also general websites like Pigsback.com and Boards.ie.
A code usually comes in the form of a word, a number, or both. For example, Irish Rail recently issued voucher code 'TW1039' through its Twitter site.
If you had keyed this code into the relevant box when booking a rail ticket through www.irishrail.ie for a journey on February 1, you would have benefited from a 20pc discount off the ticket price.
"With social media, these discounts are being shared around regularly, and more and more companies are using them," says Mr Doyle.
"People share them as long as it's something worth sharing, be that a funny video, a great article or a genuine bargain."
There are also a number of free sites that have popped up recently that aggregate as many voucher codes in circulation into one place and create links to them, such as Couponmaster.ie, Onsalenow.ie, and Irelandvouchercodes.com
If you look up some of these sites you can find voucher codes that will get you up to 10pc or 15pc off a new Dell laptop or desktop PC when you buy from the Dell website, for example.
"There has undoubtedly been a move towards instant reward over the past couple of years, and the surge in voucher codes reflects this," says James Lenehan, CEO of Win Win, a company that runs incentive schemes for a variety of retailers.
"However, much of this originated from individuals going on to forums and blogs to pick up voucher codes that were quoted by others."
In some ways it all sounds too good to be true -- money-off voucher codes that you can pick up easily without having to be a regular customer or signed up to a loyalty programme. There must be a catch, surely?
Mr Lenehan warns that there may be risks for consumers who pick up and use voucher codes not intended for general use.
For example, an unwanted code intended for a specific customer, but who has decided to share it online instead because he or she has no use for it.
"People are often not entitled to a specific offer, but they pick it up on a voucher-code site or a blog," he says.
"It's a bit like the music industry in the online world, in that the promotional-codes game has been taken to a place the retailers never wanted to go.
"The control has been taken out of their hands, and the consumer is benefiting from this."
So while more retailers here are seeing the benefit of using voucher codes to generate more online shopping "traffic" to their websites, there is some uncertainty about how best to distribute them without giving too much away.
In the UK, where voucher codes are big business, there have been some reported problems over technical glitches as well as terms and conditions.
But the industry now appears to be taking the attitude that they are happy, in most cases, to accept whatever ways they can attract new business online, even if it is from a customer who has managed to get hold of a "leaked" voucher code.
"The voucher is subject to abuse to a degree, but it is inconceivable to think that customers are not going to share the codes with family and friends," says Damien Hampson, who works for the UK office of Pigsback.com.
Mr Hampson says that retailers are now ensuring that their voucher codes are linked to particular special offers, or issued to regular customers either exclusively for them only or for general use so they can share with friends and family.
"In most cases the voucher codes are only valid for a short period of time, or are attached to specific offers and with strict terms and conditions."
It seems many online retailers here are already coming to the same conclusion.
"Back in 2005 and 2006 there were numerous problems," says Mr Doyle.
"Nowadays, I think companies are educated, informed and resigned enough to recognise that they'll benefit more from redeeming the vouchers rather than refusing them."