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No More Free Coffee
11 August 2008

Coupon Some of our regular visitors may have noticed that we discontinued our coupons for free Kona coffee.  We originally printed the Kona coffee coupons nearly three years ago.  They were intended to be a fun thing to hide in geocaches.  If you've never heard of geocaching, you should give it a try.

We've hidden several hundred coffee coupons in geocaches over the years.  I never expected a big response but I did think we'd get a better response than we have.  I don't know if the coupons look too much like a business card so they're getting ignored or if geocachers just aren't interested in free coffee.  Certainly not all geocachers care about free coffee but that's the beauty of it, only coffee drinkers will take the card while everyone else will leave it behind.  Some of the geocaches on the island get hundreds of visitors every year.  With that many visitors, the five or so cards we put in a geocache should eventually be picked up and redeemed.  Or so I thought.

In order for the Kona coffee coupons to be redeemed, I had to make a web page explaining how the coupons worked and allow people to choose between a free sample or $5 off their first order.  Implementing the coupons required special coding for the shopping cart, user database and several pages on the website.  It wasn't a difficult thing to do but it wasn't trivial either.

Then the web crawlers discovered our coupons for free Kona coffee.  These web crawlers are special software robots that crawl the web looking for discounts and free samples.  They collect all these offers and republish them on their own website.  People can subscribe to these "freebie" websites and get a list of all sorts of various discounts.  The freebie offers range from tiny tubes of toothpaste to discounts on cruise ships.  As you can imagine, lots of people check these freebie websites regularly.

When the first web crawler found our coupon offer for free Kona coffee it was only a matter of minutes before the requests started flooding in.  Within a day we had over a thousand requests for free coffee.  Luckily I was at home that day so I discovered the problem and quickly shut off the offer.

We considered simply ignoring all the requests but felt that we should honor our original offer.  We decided to send out an email explaining what happened and telling people that we were a small family coffee farm, not a large corporation.  If they were still interested in free coffee all they had to do is reply and a free sample of 100% Kona coffee would be on its way.  Out of over 1000 requests, only a couple hundred had registered with valid email addresses.  Out of those, only a dozen or so responded.  Out of those, almost none came back to purchase coffee.

After that fiasco we almost discontinued the offer but I didn't want to give up.  Instead, I changed the website so the offer was still there but couldn't be found by web crawler robots (I used to be a network programmer so I knew how to outsmart the robots).  Freebie seekers that didn't even bother to read our website couldn't find the free coupon but anybody with an actual coupon card in their hand shouldn't have a problem.

Over the past couple years, requests for free coffee have slowly trickled in.  On average we receive maybe one request every month or so.  Out of those requests, maybe one in ten will result in a purchase.  Each sample costs us about $5 so the program wasn't paying for itself.  Some people don't need to do the math to know that giving away free coffee is a bad idea.  It took me a bit longer to figure it out.

Almost all the requests for free coffee samples were from people that either found the offer on our website or had been handed a card by a friend.  Almost none of the requests were from geocachers as originally planned.  So I finally admitted defeat and removed the offer from the website.  Two days later, I receive the following email:

Hey Kona Earth!

I found a coupon for a 'Free 2oz coffee sample or $5 off first order w/ new user registration' while geocaching.  On it is written [a password].   Is this offer still good?

Thanks! :)

Yes, we did honor their coupon and sent them some free Kona coffee.  No, they haven't ever come back and purchased any coffee.  It's possible they just decided they don't like our coffee but based on the constant stream of compliments we get from other customers, I doubt that's the case.

If you want some free Kona coffee, we'll be happy to send you a sample.  I'm sure there are still plenty of Kona Earth coffee coupons hidden in geocaches out there, each one with a unique password written on the back, all you have to do is go find one.  Of course you'll need a GPS and some good hiking shoes.  You'll also need some determination because there are thousands and thousands of geocaches hidden all over the world and the coupons could be anywhere by now.  Good luck.

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