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Why Buy Today What You Could Buy Tomorrow?

  |  November 26, 2002   |  Comments

Stifling information isn't the way to win consumers' hearts.

Take a gander at the title of a New York Times article published last Thursday: "Internet Sites Delete News of Sales by Big Retailers." (Note: Site requires registration.)

Of course, we all know online law is fairly loose these days. However, one piece of legislation making an impact online is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA was heralded by advocates as protecting the rights of artists, writers, and even programmers, to prevent their digital work from being copied and distributed without their permission. The act says, "No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title."

It's tough to know whether to agree with this one. Let's look at the current problem at hand. We all know the day after Thanksgiving is one of the all-time biggest shopping days of the year in the United States. In fact, it's referred to as Black Friday. Sure, the holiday season means shopping, but with the good old U.S. economy in the tank consumers need to spend money wisely. With money that tight, retailers are scrambling to attract consumers' dollars. While visions of sugarplums dance in their heads, butterflies float in their stomachs. Ways to capitalize on this offline are obvious. No matter where you look, circulars always seem to boast "One Day Sale!" Is anyone that clueless?

Well, not Web users. Web users are well stocked with ammunition. They go online to get great gift ideas, find retail stores, and search for specific items, prices, and availability. All of the portals have items prominently displayed on their home pages. Many sites have electronic coupons, discount codes, and free shipping. Holiday e-commerce has had its ups and downs within the past few years. However, when people research products, download coupons, or place orders, they flock to the Web. As online advertisers and marketers, we need to work with this trend, not against it.

As this behavior has increased, the number of Internet sites seeking to facilitate this information has surged. This is what's ticked off Wal-Mart, Target, and some other major retailers. You see, last week, sites such as FatWallet.com, which offers visitors coupons for on- and offline purchases, received a lovely letter from a Wal-Mart representative. The reason? FatWallet, along with many other coupon sites, had posted content about upcoming post-Thanksgiving sales. The letter reportedly said: "It's our data about our products that we put out, and we don't want customers to be confused." Several other sites were said to receive the same letter.

Let's think about this for no more than a half a second, please. We Americans have the First Amendment to protect freedom of speech, but yet we can't promote upcoming sales? Isn't creating buzz about "falling prices" a good thing, no matter how you look at it? Or do these super retail giants think disseminating this information will result in less foot traffic in stores prior to the holiday? Can facts, such as information about these sales, be copyrighted?

FatWallet knows the truth but removed the information anyhow. Who wants to fight with Sam Walton -- especially when you're a small Internet company? The New York Times article shared a quote from Tim Storm, FatWallet's owner, "Going up against Wal-Mart, well, it can be very expensive to be right."

MyCoupons got the same letter but kept the information up on its site. Some sites posted the letters they got from the giants. But let's not lose sight of what's really important here. A consumer is a consumer is a consumer, and we mustn't ignore what he has to say. To attract consumers' attention and meet their needs, we need to look at what they're doing and take advantage of those behaviors. Trying to stifle information, by invoking the DMCA or through other means, isn't the answer.

Here's how consumers are behaving with regard to these coupon sites, according to a study undertaken by Brand Marketing, PMA, Greenfield, and Experian:

  • Consumers like receiving coupons and samples from online sources. On average, consumers use five coupons per week.

  • The coupon's face value influences usage more than other reasons.

  • Consumers prefer a coupon with a high face value and a near expiration date(93 percent) over a low-value coupon with a far out expiration date (7 percent).

  • Samples are more effective than coupons in moving consumers to a brand.

  • Sampling programs are effective at getting people to try your products. They also help generate awareness and brand switching.

  • Respondents received samples in the mail (82 percent), in packages of other products (58 percent), in the store (57 percent), online (53 percent), with a newspaper (50 percent), and on their outside doorknobs (26 percent).

  • Household finances appear to influence coupon usage.

Now that you know the facts, you can make these trends work for you. Providing more information, not less, is likely the way to win consumers' hearts.

Note: If you aren't sure where you stand on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, check it out. If you are opposed to it, the Copyright Office is now accepting comments on the act, which made it illegal to copy digital entertainment and imposed a number of other restrictions that have drawn users' ire. The comment period ends December 18. A comment form is available online.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Seana Mulcahy

Seana Mulcahy is vice president, director of interactive media at Mullen (an IPG company). She's been creating online brands since before the first banner was sold. Her expertise includes online and traditional media planning and buying, e-mail marketing, viral marketing, click-stream analysis, customer tracking, promotions, search engine optimization and launching brands online. Prior to Mullen, Seana was vice president of media services at Carat Interactive. She's built online media services divisions for three companies and has worked with clients spanning financial, telecom, high-tech, healthcare and retail. Not surprisingly, she has taught, lectured and written about the industry for numerous trade associations and publications.

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