Psst! Hey, buddy, want a puppy?

So here’s a new one in the field of hiring: as detailed on their website, Rover.com is giving away puppies for successful referrals. (Rover.com matches dog owners with dog sitters, facilitates communication between owners and sitters, and essentially acts as an escrow service for payment: owners deposit funds with Rover.com via credit card, and Rover.com then pays the sitter after the service is complete.)

Turns out that my initial mental image of puppies being folded in thirds, slipped into envelopes and mailed to referrers isn’t quite right. What they’re actually offering is $1000 to be used for adopting a puppy. I’m not sure that’s a huge improvement.

It seems to me that by positioning the offer the way they have, they are encouraging the recipients to opt for a high-priced purebred from a breeder. How about tweaking it a bit to encourage adoption from a shelter or rescue organization? In all fairness to Rover.com, the web page about the offer does note that you don’t have to spend the money on adoption, or could even donate it to one of their partners – a list that does include shelters and rescue groups. But that suggestion is buried at the bottom of the page, after even the joke about not adopting a cat “because cats are snooty.” Even just rewording it a bit to emphasize using the money not just for an adoption, but also the “start-up costs” (veterinary checkup, chipping, spaying/neutering, etc.) would encourage the adoption of needier animals.

The other problem I have with Rover.com’s offer is that they also give $1000 worth of dog sitting. Actually, they provide a $1000 credit with their own service. In short, they’re using a hiring opportunity to create customers – and possibly taking business away from sitters who already have relationships with Rover.com’s new customers.

OK, Rover.com is only looking to hire four people, and apparently they only paid out for one referral, so it’s not that big a deal in the greater scheme of things, but what if the idea catches on, especially with larger companies?

Suppose Amazon made a similar offer: refer a new employee and we’ll give you $500 to buy an ebook reader and $500 worth of books. $500 will get you just about any reader on the market, or even most of the available tablets. Of course, that $500 in books is actually a credit with the Kindle store, so you had better buy a Kindle if you want the best possible reading experience. Sure, you could buy a tablet from someone else and install the Kindle app, but I’m sure Amazon would be the first to remind you that if you get a Kindle you can use the rest of the $500 to buy apps, music, and videos.

An interesting transaction, wouldn’t you say? Amazon gets a new employee (your referral) that they think will earn them money in the long run, and a locked-in customer. And even if you don’t buy the Kindle, they still get at least half of the money they offered you for the referral back, since the unused portion of that $500 credit they gave you expired after a few months.

Where else might this idea work to the benefit of a business?

Hey, Ford (and all the other auto manufacturers) needs a lot of people. Make a referral and they’ll give you $1000 toward the purchase of a new car and $1000 in maintenance (in the form of a credit with your local Ford dealership’s shop). Think that might sway you to buy a Ford over some other maker’s car? Even if you weren’t quite ready to buy a new car yet? Of course you could just pocket the $1000 and not buy a car – but then you’ll lose the second $1000! Oh noes!

See where I’m going with this?

Before anyone asks, no, I’m not proposing that there should be laws regulating the coupling of referral bonuses to company products and services. Let us just spread the word to say “No to puppies!” Anyone want to contribute a logo to the cause?

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