I know that User Generated Content is all the rage these days. Letting your consumers have their say on your own website is currently regarded as enlightened brand thinking.
But letting them create their own special offers is probably going a step too far, as high street retailer Gap will tell you.
Gap's email borne 30 per cent discount voucher, apparently intended for a few close business partners, has gone viral (shock horror!) and been forwarded to millions of UK consumers.
This is known in the industry as "Doing a Threshers", where you cry crocodile tears over your damaged profit margin, because naively you didn't realise how fast things spread on the internet. But obviously you'll honour any one who turns up with the e-voucher because that's the sort of honest brand you are.
Meanwhile, your shelves are emptied in record time and any loss in margin is amply compensated for by volume sales.
However, in Gap's case their 30 per cent off e-voucher mysteriously turned in to a 60 per cent off voucher thanks to the Photoshop skills of some mischievous prankster. It not entirely clear what they had to gain by doing this. Did they hope some dozy shop assistant would accept the offer and they'd walk out the store with a cheap pair of jeans?
Perhaps it was an act of sabotage by the anti-globalisation lobby for which Gap is often a target. Or perhaps it's an ingenious marketing ploy by Gap itself!
Imagine having thousands of people walking into your store expecting 60 per cent off giving you the opportunity to say "sorry your voucher is a fake, but now you're here why not have 30 per cent off these jeans?" Brilliant.
The official line from Gap is that the original 30 per cent vouchers, which were not intended for general consumer use, would be redeemable, but not the 60 per cent fake versions. A spokeswoman for Gap said the company was "disappointed" that its redemption scheme had been abused. There are those crocodile tears I told you about. But Gap is not alone. There has been a spate of fake e-vouchers circulating the net in recent months as we approach the annual shopping festival we call Christmas.
Littlewoods recently tried to send out an exclusive £25 e-voucher to a few good customers, yet the whole thing went viral after the email discount code ended up being circulated on chat rooms.
There are of course technical solutions to the problem. Printable voucher technology that limits the number of vouchers printed by each individual as well as in total is available. Although it doesn't take much of a hacker to counterfeit anything delivered electronically.
Perhaps it's better to embrace the extra reach these alleged virtual disasters give a brand, not to mention the publicity. Ultimately, the customer has walked into a shop with something they have printed themselves and there is no obligation for the retailer to honour its promises.