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We’re coming towards the end of sale season, but businesses are still sending out emails to tempt customers into making a purchase.

Normally the retailer is specific about the amount of money off each product, however recently we’ve noticed that some businesses are sending emails with ‘mystery’ discount coupons, which basically means you don’t know how much the discount is for.

Yesterday Dell sent one of these emails, which attempts to lure you in with the offer a discount that could be anything from 10% to 50%. The problem is you only find out what the discount is once you get to the checkout.

The mysterious coupon is presumably supposed to make the customer so curious that they can’t help but click on the call-to-action on the off chance they are rewarded a half price laptop, but personally I find it to be an incredibly annoying offer.

It’s not difficult to find decent offers online at this time of year, so as a consumer what this suggests to me is that Dell isn’t offering great discounts so has to hide behind ‘mystery coupons’.

And it’s made worse by the amount of time it takes before the discount is finally revealed...

Step one

After clicking the call-to-action you land on the homepage to be shown a range of business laptops and another voucher code offering an additional £40 off purchases of more than £499.

This is a decent discount on top of the code I’ve already been sent, and slightly lessens the blow of not knowing how much my email code is worth.

Step two

Having chosen a Vostro Notebook 3560 I’m linked to the product page, which displays a confusing arrays of font sizes and colours.

That aside, the next step is to customise my Vostro...

Steps three to six

Now to build my laptop. In fairness, allowing users to choose the spec for their laptop is key to Dell’s success, but I’d be much happier answering all these questions if I knew the actual cost of my new computer.

Step seven

I’ve made it to the checkout. The excitement is building. Dell has already given me free shipping and £60 off this Vostro model, and now I can actually enter my ‘mystery’ code and find out the full extent of my discount.

And the discount is.... 10% off. This doesn’t come as a surprise, and isn’t the sort of discount that would be enough to entice me to buy from Dell above a different retailer.

I guess Dell assumes that once the customer gets to this stage they’re not really worried about the level of discount, but if I was genuinely on the hunt for a bargain and had taken the time to fill in all those forms properly I would be incredibly frustrated with this outcome.

In conclusion...

Hidden or ‘mystery’ discounts are a strange tactic, as it suggests that the amount of money off isn’t worth shouting about and wastes the customers time. 

Dell’s purchase process isn’t short, and for good reason, which makes the use of mystery discount codes even stranger, particularly as the level of discount might impact the different add-ons they go for.

Research shows that hidden delivery costs are one of the main causes of basket abandonment because people want to know upfront what they’re paying. Therefore hiding the discount until the seventh step out of 10 in the purchase journey seems counterintuitive.

Admittedly this discount was offered in a B2B email and I haven’t noticed it in B2C emails, so it might be that business customers are less price sensitive.

Even so, it’s still a frustrating way of offering customers a discount, and in my opinion the number of customers who are delighted with their 50% discount is likely to be far outweighed by customers who become annoyed and abandon their purchase when their 10% discount is finally revealed.

Have you ever used mystery discounts? Did you have any success? Let us know in the comments below.

David Moth

Published 8 January, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (4)

James Gadsby Peet

James Gadsby Peet, Senior Digital Services Manager at Cancer Research UK

Maybe they are banking on it discouraging people from shopping around for discount codes at the end of their purchase? As you say, any discount is better than none and anything that keeps the user in the purchase cycle rather than researching discount codes can only be a good thing...

almost 4 years ago


Balazs Bitay, Business Development Manager (Online Marketing) at HP

We did a mystery campaign A/B test & it showed significant increase in revenue compared to the standard promotional email.

Indeed, basket abandonment was higher but it was far outweighed by the increased CTR to the email. People like to play, and everybody is much more positive about their chances to win the high discount than the maths would suggest.

almost 4 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at EconsultancyStaff

@Balazs, thanks for your comment. It's really interesting to hear that you achieved a significant revenue increase, as you can probably tell my feelings on these kind of discounts from the tone of the article. But I guess for most consumers curiosity got the better of them.

I would be interested to know if the higher abandonment rate had any impact on CTR on future email campaigns. I suspect that it probably didn't as people often have short memories, but it would be interesting to see nonetheless.

And if you're able to share any of your stats as a case study, I'd be most grateful ;)

almost 4 years ago


Balazs Bitay, Business Development Manager (Online Marketing) at HP

Hi David, we only did it once so far therefore I can not speak about long term impacts but I hear you. In fact, it may not only be about the future CTR only but also about the brand perception in general. Our call center did get 3-4 calls from unhappy customers, not many but still to be considered. Probably I can share some stats, please contact me on my hp email address (guess you can look it up from your DB)

almost 4 years ago

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