The Bon-Ton chain of department stores recently sponsored a “Community Days” promotion where non-profit organizations sold their coupon books.  A donor paid $5 which the organization kept, and in exchange received a $10 coupon good at the Bon-Ton stores.  

In theory, it was a win-win for everyone.  Except that the list of exclusions on the coupon could fill the rest of this blog.  

I tried to use it for 3 pair of socks.  No, a single item had to be $10.  I tried it on pajamas; no, they were clearance.  I wanted to buy cosmetics, but couldn’t use it.  It didn’t work on the Columbia brand I liked nor the Incredible Value sweater.  By the time I found a t-shirt that actually worked with the coupon, I was so frustrated that I gave all the other discount coupons in the book to another shopper rather than spend the time to try and use them myself.

Because there were so many restrictions, the line backed up, giving customers plenty of time to grumble amongst each other.  One shopper left her items at the counter and told the clerk: “This is why I shop at Kohl’s” (where the coupons work on everything.)

There is a reason that “the fine print” gets a bad rap.  Instead of making the “community days” so much about making money, Younkers and its related stores would have had much better PR if they delighted the donors with their coupon instead of frustrated them with it. 

Don’t just pretend to be generous.  If you position yourself to be benevolent through a “community days” promotion, take steps to actually be generous instead of just using it as ploy for others to do your marketing for you.

— beth triplett

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