Shoestring Theory

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eBay coupons, great idea, just wish the implementation was better

October 30, 2008 at 2:58 pm by thetheorist

eBay lightning strike

Since this spring, I’ve received several coupons from eBay, ranging from $5 off shipping up to 10 percent off one purchase (up to $100 off). I think I’ve received a total of 6 coupons, give or take one. I’ve had problems getting two of them two work, both of them were 10 percent off ones.

I have no idea if my two experiences are wide spread or fairly isolated. If anyone else has had experience using eBay coupons, let me know in the comments section

The problem here is eBay’s advertising versus its implementation of coupons. eBay issues coupons through email, mailers and advertisements on the site. But, PayPal actually redeems the coupons. The coupons are not tied to your eBay account, they are tied to your PayPal account. In the case of my first problem using one, a coupon was sent to both of my eBay accounts. However, because both accounts are tied to the same PayPal account, only one of the codes was technically valid. At the time, the language included with the coupon certainly did not reflect this and eBay still hasn’t clarified the language in the newest batch of coupons. Here is the full text of the coupon I saw this week (actual code omitted):

10% off*—save up to $100

Please note:
Make sure the email address on your eBay account is also on your PayPal account.
Find out how.

Who’s eligible?
Only invited, registered eBay users who receive the coupon by email from us or see the coupon in My eBay are eligible. Sorry, no forwarding—the coupon is not transferable See terms and conditions below.

Here’s how to redeem this offer:
1. Start shopping on eBay. Be sure the seller accepts PayPal.
2. Pay for your item with PayPal before the expiration date (October 30, 2008). Make sure the email address on your eBay account is also on your PayPal account. Find out how.)
3. Enter the redemption code: ********
*Terms and Conditions:
The offer will expire at 11:59:59 PM PT on October 30, 2008. Receive 10% off (maximum discount of $100) the purchase price (excluding shipping, handling, and taxes) of a single item on Recipients of the coupon must be registered eBay members and pay for the item with PayPal.

The coupon is non-transferable, void where prohibited, not redeemable for cash, for one-time use only, and has no face value. The coupon is subject to U.S. laws and cannot be combined with any other coupon. eBay reserves the right to cancel, amend, or revoke the coupon at any time. Use of automated devices or programs to redeem the coupon is prohibited.

Purchases made through any customized checkout system and/or eBay Live Auctions are excluded.

You’ll note that while it notes multiple times that you must pay with PayPal and that the email address must match, it does not state that the coupon is only valid once per PayPal account. It’s not uncommon for eBay users to have multiple accounts and eBay knows this.

Earlier this week, I signed into my personal eBay account and an ad popped up on the main page advertising the above coupon and linking to the page with the full details. I didn’t need the coupon that day, but saved it, knowing I had a couple of days to use it. Today, I bought an item, went to use the code, and it came back as invalid. Grrrr. In this case, it appears that the advert shouldn’t have popped up for me at all. The coupons were sent to a random batch of customers, of whom I was not one, but for some reason the ad for it popped up on my account, even though I wasn’t eligible to use it.

If you have a problem, the natural inclination is to call eBay, who issued the coupon, at which time you will learn that the customer service reps, while friendly and sympathetic, actually have no power to assist you. In both cases, the eBay reps had to transfer me to PayPal, where I got to tell my story again. Also in both cases, the PayPal rep said the coupon couldn’t be activated for me, but that they would credit back the 10 percent to my account after I paid for the item.

Positive Feedback
Positive feedback for eBay and PayPal for how their customer service reps handled this situation.

I greatly appreciate the fact that the customer service reps for both eBay and PayPal were friendly and did all within their power to help me. I also appreciate the coupons eBay is sending out. But, if coupons are to be a long term part of the eBay experience, they need to get the process functioning flawlessly. In both of the problems I had, I bought items valued at about $300 solely because I had a coupon. Because you can’t test a coupon until after you’ve commited to buy something, you’re on the hook if the coupon fails for any reason, even one out of your control. eBay is very clear about this on their coupon help page:

If you buy or win an item, you’re required to purchase it even if you can’t use the coupon you intended for that purchase. If that’s not possible, you can contact the seller by clicking the seller’s user ID on the item page.

Negative Feedback
Negative feedback for the poor and potentially costly implementation of coupons.

These issues with coupons are very close to being a “bait and switch” kind of problem because of the structure of eBay’s business. I bought something because eBay advertised a particular price on the item by offering me a coupon. Then, once I had already committed to buy the item, I learned I had to pay a higher price. If I could have easily backed out of today’s purchase after discovering the coupon wouldn’t work, I would have. But to do that, I would have had to contact the seller and ask them to cancel the sale, always an iffy situation.

I want eBay to continue this program, but only if they can get their implementation in line with their advertising. I’ll be very leery to use any more coupons and will be tempted to call support to verify eligibility prior to big purchases in the future.

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The Submit button may not be appearing or working correctly in IE6. I would suggest upgrading to IE7 or Firefox 2 for full functionality (I'm still looking for a solution to this if anyone knows one).

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  • 1 D-Man Dec 16, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Hey dude, will you do me one big favor and tell me the code (and where you placed it) that you entered to get the IE6 comment underneath this box?

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