Promises to your customers

Promises are tricky. Whether you promise your kid that extra treat or that toy if … or you want to sell shoes, t-shirts or cookies.
You better think carefully before you let yourself be tempted to promise something you might not want to deliver.

A short story about selling shoes

I happen to have subscribed to a newsletter of a brand of shoes I like. That is, I even signed up for a “friends & family” program. So once in a while I get these emails inviting me to get a sneak preview of the new collection or an extra discount for being a friend. Same thing now, as summer moves on everybody is doing summer sales. So I got this coupon in my email promising me 50% discount, applicable only to items that are already on sale. Sounds like a good deal.

And I still believe it IS a good deal. But…

The coupon said “50%”. And the way it is with these emails, they are supposed to entice you to immediately click on it to get that deal. Honestly, do you read all the fine-print before clicking?

So I got to my favorite pair of shoes, the ones I have been looking at again and again. Actually I don’t really need them, but they do look nice and it’s a good brand and… I added them to my basket and went to checkout. For the sake of simple calculations, let’s say they were 160 € before they went on sale. Now they are 100 €. So 50% would be 50 €, correct? Well, I added my coupon code and the actual price turned out to be – 80 €.

Wait, wait, wait. 80 € is definitely NOT 50 % of 100 €. It’s 50% of the original price, that is 160€. I was disappointed. And I left.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel, 80 € is an absolutely fair price for that pair of shoes. What annoyed me was that I felt cheated. They promised me something and it turned out they did not tell the whole story. They did not even write it in the fine-print in a way that one could really understand it. You have to read it closely and think about it to really “get it”.


I believe it is a good idea to act on the assumption that your customers are not stupid. And it is safe to say that no one likes to feel cheated. You might also want to consider this: The recipients of these emails already take part in your partner program. They showed considerable interest in your product, that is quality shoes at an appropriate price. This definitely is NOT the cheapy stuff! So the pricing is probably not their first concern when buying your shoes.

What would have helped me as a customer?

I probably would have clicked on the coupon even if it only had said “an additional 20% off of the SALES price”. Sure, 20% doesn’t sound half as sexy, but that’s what it actually is. Since I have been looking at those shoes in a while I probably would have been happy about paying 80 € instead of 100 €. And I would have left a happy customer and the shoe store would have made a sale.

They made a promise they weren’t willing to fulfill. They triggered a desire and didn’t follow through.

I don’t know how that campaign went and if other people react differently. But with me, I realize I have grown very sensitive when it comes to false promises, especially from brands I would like to be able to trust.