From the April 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

Retailers like Lane Bryant, New York & Co. and many casual restaurants routinely give date-sensitive coupons at the point of purchase. Tied to purchasing levels--the more you spend, the more you save--the coupons offer specific amounts off future purchases (for example, spend $50, save $10).

"It's designed to get the customer to come back within a specific window of time," says Dan Stanek, executive vice president of Retail Forward, a Columbus, Ohio, retail consulting firm. To make the most of this type of promo, Stanek says to consider the following:

  • While a weeklong window of validity may be sufficient for a clothing retailer, a jewelry store may need a longer window. Give customers enough time to make a decision and act.
  • If coupons are tied to spending, have safeguards against returns. Lane Bryant requires coupons to be attached to the original receipt. That way, customers can't make a large purchase to get the dollars off their next purchase, then return the merchandise and keep the coupon.
  • Plan promotions carefully. The benefit of time-specific coupons is that they let you plan other promotions more effectively, says Stanek. You know when the coupons will be redeemed and can offer other price promotions during periods when the coupons aren't valid.
Gwen Moran is co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans.