Seth's blog has a note about a poorly handled coupon snafu at Starbucks. Given Starbuck's size, I don't understand why they haven't incorporated a coupon strategy with barcoding. This is a fairly simple and inexpensive technology… it only requires validation at the Point of Service computer.
How can you do this? Most email marketing software vendors allow Substitution Strings (if they don't, move to ExactTarget). That means that you can easily pass a string in an image path. The string passed at the time the email is opened actually builds the barcode dynamically, so Starbucks could easily encrypt some sort of coupon code – unique to a subscriber – and output it as a barcode.
When redeemed, the cashier can scan the email with the barcode on it. The value is looked up within the system and then checked for authenticity AND redemption. In addition, the redemption of the coupon can be registered back to the actual Email Address – providing the Marketer with some valuable information on who redeemed the coupon, how long it took, where they redeemed it at, etc. This is powerful data! Surely information that will be a great resource down the road!
With some off the shelf technology and some simple planning, Starbucks could have saved themselves the embarrassment.