Maxing out the upsell-o-meter


Many grocery stores in the United States have a printer next to the cash register which prints out coupons customized to your purchases. If you buy the house brand of spaghetti, it might print out a coupon for a slightly more expensive brand of spaghetti. The goal with these coupons is to get you to try a fancier (and therefore more profitable) version of the product in the hopes that you will like it and switch.

For reasons not important to the story, one of my colleagues needed to buy baby formula for his newborn son. He and his wife carefully researched the options and decided that the best brand to get was XYZ brand. They went to the grocery store to buy some, and as expected, they got a cash register coupon.

But upon closer inspection, it wasn't a coupon after all.

Thank you for buying XYZ brand baby formula.

[Raymond is currently away; this message was pre-recorded.]

Comments (12)
  1. Gabe says:

    What I’ve encountered in the past is getting coupons for more of what I’ve bought. For example, if I bought a bottle of X-brand juice, I might get a coupon for 50 cents off 2 bottles of X-brand juice. If I then use the coupon to buy 2 bottles, I get a coupon for a dollar off 3 bottles of X-brand juice.

    So if I’ve already bought a jug of the most expensive XYZ brand baby feed, they could just give me a coupon for 2 jugs of XYZ brand baby feed.

  2. R. Bemrose says:

    @Gabe:

    I’ve seen those for Hot Pockets before, back when I still bought those.

    The amusing thing is that it was always for exactly one more than I currently bought.

  3. CodeOrDie says:

    This post definitely requires a motivating preliminary discussion.

  4. David Walker says:

    +1 to CodeOrDie; great comment.

    Since I open comments in multiple tabs, I see that the Captcha doesn’t work right when you do that.  Yes, I know it’s not controlled by Raymond…  :-)

  5. GregM says:

    David, I wouldn’t worry too much about it right now, they’re replacing the entire blog system starting Sunday.  I think they mentioned the captcha as one of the things that is being improved.

  6. Robert Morris says:

    Side question: I don’t have or plan on having kids…ever…but aren’t all baby formulas in the US, assuming that’s where said friend lives, the same by law?

  7. Gabe says:

    Robert Morris: I can assure you that not all baby formulas are the same, at least in the US. Here’s some information about different formulas (formulae?): http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/infant-formula/pr00058

  8. Legal Beagle says:

    In some countries there are laws about advertising baby food.

    It’s not like normal food. In the UK you can’t mention that it’s better than breast milk, for example.

    Not saying that strange laws are the reason in THIS case, but it may be a factor.

  9. Nick says:

    "If you buy the house brand of spaghetti, it might print out a coupon for a slightly more expensive brand of spaghetti. The goal with these coupons is to get you to try a fancier (and therefore more profitable) version of the product in the hopes that you will like it and switch."

    That’s interesting because I would have expected the reverse.  Most big stores have their own brands (GreatValue for Walmart, Kroger for all their child stores, etc).  While upselling the more expensive brands makes sense I would have thought they like you buying the store brand.

    Unless the store brand is only there to get people in the store with super lower prices and they don’t generate much profit.  Then this would make sense.

  10. Bryan says:

    UK law says "No person shall … give away any coupon which may be used to purchase an infant formula at a discount"

  11. the store brand is only there to get people in the store with super lower prices and they don’t generate much profit.

    I would guess that the store makes a higher margin on the name brands.  But carrying two similar products at different price points is good marketing strategy – see "market segmentation."

    There is also the problem of competing name brands… I’ve noticed when I buy name brand A I often get a coupon for name brand B (regardless of which is more expensive.)  I’m guessing the store sells coupon opportunities to both brands, and in this scenario brand XYZ decided to outbid their competitor for the coupon opportunity "customer buys XYZ."

  12. Nick says:

    UK law says "No person shall … give away any coupon which may be used to purchase an infant formula at a discount"

    Wow, color me dumbfounded.

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