Petco Releases Coupon On Internet, Forgets How Internet Works

25percentPetco had a really fun promotion this past Saturday. Customers printed out a coupon from the retailer’s site, and scanned it at the checkout. Customers wouldn’t know the total value of their coupon until it was scanned. This sounds really fun, doesn’t it? Only there was a flaw. Only four barcodes for the coupons existed, and customers who clicked on the “mystery” coupon link would receive one of the four. It didn’t take long for customers to figure out which of the codes was for a 50% off coupon and head to Petco to stock up on essentials for their critters. Thus began a very, very bad day to be a Petco employee.

Victor, an avid deal-seeker, sets the scene.

Petco had a promotion on Saturday the 15th for up to 50% off your entire purchase when you print out and bring in the coupon from their site. You don’t know the value until it’s scanned at the register. At least…that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

The internet being what it is, and the Petco IT department decision to use 4 non-unique coupon codes meant that people figured out which coupon was 50% off within minutes and were emailing friends direct links to the coupon on Petco’s site to print out Friday night. By Saturday morning the coupon had gone viral in a BIG way. Petco corporate was clueless/helpless until about 1pm PST when they changed the 50% off page so it always pointed to the 10% off coupon (while still advertising a now-impossible shot at 50% to consumers answering their promo email). At about 5pm PST they finally changed the gif graphic to the 10% coupon as well and put new quickie signs up in stores saying the max redemption of ANY Petco coupon was $25.

When will these 20th century retail stores understand that a promotion sent via email, especially a HOT promotion like 50% off, REQUIRES unique coupon codes? Blaming customers by calling the coupon ON THEIR SITE fraudulent is bad form. Also, changing the game so it was impossible to get 50% coupons while still advertising “up to 50%” is bad form, too.

But I’m sure they had a banner day for sales…at 50% off for the ones that got in before 1pm PST.

I’ve attached a sample of the 50% off version of the coupon and one of the signs in-store at Petco after they tried to shut down their own “fraudulent” coupon.

Customers in Petco stores were told that the coupons were fraudulent and that the site had been hacked. One shopper wrote about the fiasco in her blog:

I went to check out and gave the cashier my coupon. She said, “I cannot accept this because it is fake” I was perplexed, the coupon was clearly hosted on their website (and in fact still is as I type this). She claimed that someone “hacked their website and created this coupon”. I said that I really doubt that is what happened and that I wasn’t going to buy anything. I told her that IF their site was hacked why was the coupon still on their website? Could it be that Petco created this coupon, which was supposed to be a mystery coupon, and made a mistake when ALL the coupons take 50% off?

You know, this sounds familiar. Back in 2010, Kmart e-mailed a coupon that said it was valid in all stores, but was only valid in a few metro areas. It was just a PDF posted on Kmart’s site, though, and went viral. Customers who tried to use it were accused of trying to pass fraudulent coupons.

We’ve contacted Petco to get their side of the story, and will update this post when we find out.