Businesses often seek to leverage customers’ social networks to acquire new customers and stimulate word-of-mouth recommendations. While customers make brand recommendations for various reasons (e.g., incentives, reputation enhancement), they are also motivated by a desire for social empowerment—to feel an impact on others. In several multi-method studies, we show that facilitating sharing of social coupons (i.e., coupon sets that include one for self-use and one to be shared) is a unique marketing strategy that facilitates social empowerment. Firms benefit from social coupons because customers who share spend more and report greater purchase intentions than those who do not. Furthermore, we demonstrate that social coupons are most effective when the sharer’s brand relationship is new versus established. For customers with an established relationship, sharing with a receiver who also has an established relationship maximizes potential impact. Together, these studies connect social empowerment to relationship marketing and provide guidance to managers targeting social coupons.
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The redemption rate of traditional FSI coupons is less than 1%, suggesting that social coupons may experience a higher rate of redemption (Inmar 2016).
Following the redemption period, 35% returned during the first week, 38% returned during the second week, and 27% returned during the third week. Also, we included a multi-select question for participants to indicate why they did not share the social coupon. Responses from most to least common were: “I forgot” (n = 102), “I wasn’t sure who to share with” (n = 45), and “I didn’t have enough time” (n = 21).
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Anne Roggeveen served as Area Editor for this article.
Social coupon examples from marketing practice
Study 1a: coupon stimuli
Study 2: coupon stimuli
Study 1b: reasons for sharing or not sharing
|Category||Reasons for sharing||Reasons for not sharing|
“[The brand] wants me to bring an extra customer…win-win satiation for the vendor and the customer”|
“Introduce them to the company”
“Spread the word on the business”
“To thank the company for sending me the coupon”
“I do not think MeTees is a good store”|
“I don’t like the company”
“I don’t know anything about the company”
“I would feel like I was advertising for the company”
“I’m not sure I endorse the brand”
“I am generous”|
“It’s the smart thing to do”
“It is nice to feel generous”
“It would show someone I appreciate being frugal”
“I feel good helping”
“I don’t have time”
“I don’t know anybody who would use the coupon”
“I don’t know anyone who might be interested”
“I don’t want to risk my reputation”
“I can’t see any particular benefit to doing so”
“I would use it myself”
“I would probably want to be able to keep the savings to myself”
“I’m poor, selfish, and cheap”
“Everyone likes discounts”|
“Help friends save”
“Someone I know is looking to buy their product”
“It would be nice”
“I would like to share with others”
“I would feel very happy to be able to share”
“Help someone out, be friendly”
“It’s the right thing to do”
“Maybe they will think of me when they have coupons to share”
“Friends would appreciate the gesture”
“Make someone happy”
“I want my friends to have the same opportunities as I do”
“I like to share good things”
“It’s easy to share”
“I don’t have any friends”|
“I do not think any of my friends would be interested”
“Some people may not like to have advertisements…on social media sites”
“I may feel like I am bothering someone else”
“I don’t like sharing stuff from others on social media”
“I wouldn’t want to put pressure on someone else”
“Do not want to impose on my friends”
“Possible resentment if they bought and it didn’t work out smoothly”
“Friends will think it’s spam”
“I don’t want to seem cheap to others”
“It is a very good deal”|
“I like to share coupon deals”
“The coupon is a good value”
“I do not think it is a good deal”|
“It might not be worthwhile and it also requires a minimum purchase”
Purchase Intentions (Taylor and Baker 1994; 1 = Strongly Disagree, 7 = Strongly Agree)
The next time I need to purchase [product category], I will choose [brand].
If I had needed to purchase [product category] during the last month, I would have selected [brand].
Within the next month, if I need to purchase [product category], I will select [brand].
Item used in Study 2:
I have an impact on other customers’ shopping experiences.
Items used in Study 3:
I feel that I’m making a positive difference in another person’s life.I feel like I’m making a positive impact for someone else.
I feel like I’m making a meaningful difference for another person.
I feel that my action made a positive difference in another person’s life.
My actions made another’s life better.
I had a positive impact on others.
Brand Intimacy (Fournier 1998; 1 = Strongly Disagree, 7 = Strongly Agree)
I’d feel comfortable describing [brand] to someone who was not familiar with it.
I am familiar with the range of products the [brand] offers.
I have become very knowledgeable about the [brand].
The [brand] really understands my needs in the [product] category.
Situational Sense of Power (Anderson et al. 2012; 1 = Strongly Disagree, 7 = Strongly Agree)
In the coupon scenario…
I had a great deal of power.
I felt powerful.
I got others to do what I want.
I got to make the decisions.
I had control over others.
I got to choose who is worthy.
Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (Crowne and Marlowe 1960; 1 = Yes, 2 = No)
Items 1, 3, and 6 are reverse-coded; each yes answer receives a point and is summed.
I never hesitate to go out of my way to help someone in trouble.
It is sometimes hard for me to go on with my work if I am not encouraged.
I have never intensely disliked anyone.
On occasion I have had doubts about my ability to succeed in life.
I sometimes feel resentful when I don’t get my way.
I am always careful about my manner of dress.
Exclusivity (Barone and Roy 2010)
The coupon promotion was…
(1) Available to many customers ----- (7) Available to few customers
(1) Inclusive ----- (7) Exclusive
(1) Not at all restricted ----- (7) Restricted
(1) Not at all selective ----- (7) Selective
Involvement (Zaichkowsky 1985; 1 = Strongly Disagree, 7 = Strongly Agree)
Would you say that the coupon scenario was…?
Unimportant ----- Important
Irrelevant ----- Of concern to you
Worthless ----- Valuable
Boring ----- Interesting
Not involving ----- Involving
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Cite this article
Hanson, S., Yuan, H. Friends with benefits: social coupons as a strategy to enhance customers’ social empowerment. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. 46, 768–787 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-017-0534-9
- Social empowerment
- Relationship marketing
- Brand recommendation