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Currently, our users have to visit the site via unique url from an email with the promo code field for the promo code to work while those who visit the site directly are not be able to apply the promo code

I am interested in doing some A/B testing where a (hidden-ish) promo code field always appears on the site. where would you expect a promo code field?

  • carts page (before checkout)
  • within checkout flow (before credit card input)

PS: If you have any thoughts on the unique link within an email approach, do share!

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the user would 1st expect to see a promo code where they see the total amount of their purchase. this is the moment that the user will be thinking how can they reduce the amount they are paying.

that doesnt mean it shouldnt be included in the checkout flow. As there are extra costs like delivery added along the checkout. the user would probably expect to see another opportunity to reduce their cost at the final step before confirming the order.

refer to other ecommerce website and app and analyse their cart+checkout flow. do you see a pattern? most likely you'll see common characteristics of where the promo code feature would appear.

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As far as i have noticed. Promo codes makes user happy and it can turn a very bad user experience into a delightful experience because user is getting something in return as a cashback or discount. Best practice for promo code that i have noticed is :

  • Show all promo code which is available to user while applying ; instead of making user search and get code in some other sites and then type. almost 70% of users are not tech savvy and they doesn't prefer to research on promo codes before they actually buy. It would make user's life happier and easier if you just show all available promo codes during checkouts.

  • Make it easy to apply promo code;

  • Make user happier and show all T&C to users

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I don't know why you want to hide the promo code field because that wouldn't be the best approach.

If your site sends out emails carrying Promo Code links then it's okay to have that specialized link include the promo code. But always inform the user about it.

Where to place it?

I am assuming that this is an e-commerce website so it must have a checkout page (like you mentioned) which shows the Sub-total. Have the Apply Promo Code field right before/after this.

The approaches -

  1. Through link - Show, "XYZ Promo Code applied" and the amount subtracted.
  2. Adding manually - Links sometimes fail so it would good have the actual promo code mentioned in the email so that the user can manually add it. So, have the text input field with the "Apply Promo Code" button. On successful addition show the success message and amount subtracted.
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As a chronic online shopper, I am more likely to buy anything if I know there is a working promo code. I frequently use plugins like honey that find and apply promo codes during checkout and also hunt for coupon codes on the internet. But it makes me happier to see a promo code endorsed by the website itself and I don't have to hunt everywhere.

So now that my context has been established, I'd recommend -

  • Tag those items where the Promo applies and show some information(on click) about how much the user will save. Numbers always make a stronger point. Show savings eg: "You saved $5 on this purchase"
  • Keep a constant header ribbon that says you have a 10% offer for XYZ promo going on, this will make even mindless internet shoppers alert as it is human tendency to win a deal. Don't spam your design, but place it in one of the prime focal points of your page.
  • Include it during checkout, right below the checkout cart - "Apply promo code XYZ to save 10%" or something similar. This enforces that you are not trying to cheat your customers and are happy to share this deal so the customers can save some money.
  • Another alternative design, would be to offer recommendations during checkout about other items where the code applies too. Customer's are likely to purchase another item under the discount umbrella and feel like they won something.

I hope my ideas inspire the UX community!

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