Should Retailers Offer Discounts or Free Items to Vaccinated Customers?

El Passo

As vaccinations continue to roll out across the country, many retailers are offering discounts and freebies to customers who are or will be getting their shots. The incentives run the gamut of industry, from Staples (NASDAQ: SPLS) and Office Depot (NASDAQ: ODP) laminating vaccine cards for no charge to Uber […]

As vaccinations continue to roll out across the country, many retailers are offering discounts and freebies to customers who are or will be getting their shots. The incentives run the gamut of industry, from Staples (NASDAQ: SPLS) and Office Depot (NASDAQ: ODP) laminating vaccine cards for no charge to Uber (NYSE: UBER) and Lyft (NASDAQ: LYFT) offering discounted rides to vaccine sites to some marijuana dispensaries giving away free edibles.

The vaccine card seems to be the new hot coupon, and it has been successful with getting more customers back in the door as many stores and restaurants reopen. But is it the right move for all retailers?

A sweet deal hits a sour note

In perhaps the sweetest deal by far, Krispy Kreme is offering a free glazed doughnut every day for the rest of 2021 to any customer who flashes their vaccine card at any shop or drive-through. While some applauded it as a genius marketing move, it wasn’t long before naysayers took Krispy Kreme to task, saying the company was celebrating the end of the coronavirus pandemic by encouraging the continuation of the obesity epidemic.

In addition to having heated opinions on baked goods, many people also have them regarding the vaccine itself, and many will not be getting the vaccine as a result. Retailers who offer discounts as a way of rewarding those who do get their shot might be seen as drawing a line in the sand with their customers.

What retailers should consider

As of this writing, the CDC reports that 209 million vaccinations have been administered in the U.S., where the population is more than 331 million. While many are still awaiting their first dose of the Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) or Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) vaccine or their single dose of the Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) vaccine, there are those who are not signing up for their shots at all. Some can’t get one because they are allergic to a component of the vaccine. Some decline because of their religious beliefs. And for many others, the decision to get vaccinated is deeply political.

You won’t usually find customers balking at freebies or incentives, but the vaccine is a line of demarcation for some. For those who cannot yet get the vaccination or choose not to for whatever reason, they might feel business owners are excluding them or do not value their patronage as much as someone with a vaccine card in hand.

What retailers need to do is read the room — or rather, the community. If retailers are located in cities or towns where vaccination numbers are high, then customers in those areas would likely take kindly to such an incentive. But in areas where more people are saying no than yes to the vaccine, retailers might want to take a different approach in enticing customers back as they reopen.

The bottom line

It’s been a roller coaster ride for the commercial real estate industry since March 2020. The vaccine has helped greatly with the reopening of stores and restaurants, which is why some retailers are dangling valuable incentives to encourage customers to get their shots. But not everyone is on board with the vaccine, which is something retailers might want to consider before they launch any discounts or freebies validated by a vaccine card.

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Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by N.K. “Trip” Tripathy, leader of Kaufman Rossin’s CEO, Board & Shareholder Business Advisory Services practice. Before Kaufman Rossin, Trip served as vice president and CFO of The Limited, president and COO of Macy’s Florida and executive vice president and CFO of TJX Companies. […]