Couponing

Marketers Lure Consumers With Exclusive, Rare Offers

High-Value Discount Offers Build Buzz, Loyalty

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"You've got to sign up for the Buy Buy Baby coupons," a clued-in mother told me when I announced I was pregnant. "They don't send them out that often, but they're really good coupons."

Intrigued -- both by the exclusivity and the idea of saving a few bucks as I ventured into this expensive new life stage called motherhood -- I hunted around on the retailer's site, eventually finding a lengthy form on which I could fork over my full name, email, street address and phone number, as well as details on whether I was a parent or grandparent, the birthday or expected birthday of my child and his or her gender. All those details won me the privilege of receiving in-store coupons, circulars and promotional materials.

This is not typically the type of incentive I trade all of my personal information for, but these weren't just any coupons -- they were every-once-in-awhile savings for the in-the-know, the sort of coupons that at least once a month inspires a member of my local parents' email group to beg for any leftovers. If Buy Buy Baby is the cheetah of the coupon world -- scarce, elusive and rarely spotted in the wild -- then Enfamil and Toys 'R' Us coupons are the common house cat -- still desirable, but everyone's got one.

The definition of an "exclusive" coupon is a bit tough to nail down, though you're likely to be seeing more of them, said Lisa Reynolds, VP-consumer engagement at Valassis, the couponing giant. "We have seen more and more businesses that are interested in really rewarding and retaining loyal customers, and the use of exclusive coupons has been one of the vehicles used to do that ."

With good reason: The average U.S. company spends six times more money trying to attract new customers than it does on trying to keep existing customers. But, according to Bain & Co., a 5% increase in customer retention will yield between a 25% and 100% increase in profit.

Typically these exclusive coupons are either harder to find, appearing in circulars infrequently and not readily available on the company's website, or they are more valuable than the average coupon. According to Ms. Reynolds, the average value of a consumer-packaged-goods coupon was $1.46 last year. So, $1 off would be an everyday offer, but $2 off, depending on the product, "would be a pretty hot coupon," she said.

Weight Watchers, which markets the Smart Ones brand, is another brand tossed around in the coupon blogosphere as having tough-to-find, highly desirable coupons. While Hugh Dever, director-licensing and products at Weight Watchers, says the company is not trying to limit availability, he's not surprised to hear about its reputation.

"I don't think we've blanketed the universe with coupons, and that 's deliberate," Mr. Dever said. "We're delivering value where we think it's necessary, and we're delivering the right value to the right person." Coupons are more often distributed at Weight Watchers meetings or through direct mail than through circulars.

In the case of Buy Buy Baby, exclusivity and limited distribution appear to be helping the retailer create a valuable list of motivated consumers. Valassis' RedPlum division found that 74% of consumers would sign up for an e-newsletter in order to save 25%. Likewise, a full 60% said they would be willing to either "like" a page on Facebook or tweet a deal, in order to save.

"Retailers like Buy Buy Baby are using exclusive coupons to build their databases," said Ms. Reynolds. "Consumers are very open, when there is something valuable offered to them in exchange for their information, to considering that ."

Buy Buy Baby declined to comment, but Ms. Reynolds expects more marketers will be following suit, thanks to the advent of email marketing and social media. "[Marketers] weren't as focused on collecting names and information before," she said. "And [coupons] are always in the marketing bag of tools."

And me? About two months after signing up for the Buy Buy Baby coupon scheme I received my first postcard with a 20%-off offer, which saved me $65.31 on a crib, and a $5-off coupon, put to good use on bottles. The discounts continue to arrive every three months.

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