The tune is catchy, the dancing is fun, and the singing fish is a nice touch – though the fact that the performers seem to relish ripping up coupons may leave you scratching your head. The company Mobeam has produced a video that looks a little like an episode of Glee in a grocery store. Have a look at the video above – and when you’re done watching, you may wonder, what is Mobeam exactly, and what are they trying to sell us?
It turns out all this singing and dancing and coupon abuse is aimed at retailers and manufacturers, and not at consumers at all. Not directly, at least. But if their idea takes off, it could mean more savings for all of us.
Oh, and the death of paper coupons. But then we’ve heard that before.
Mobeam is promoting a new technology that accomplishes something you probably thought was already possible – it allows bar-coded coupons to be scanned right from your cell phone.
Wait, don’t stores like Target do that already? Yes, but Target had to install all-new scanners in every one of its roughly 1,800 stores across the country when it began offering mobile coupons three years ago. Its image scanners use a camera to read the bar code, while most grocery and retail stores still use red laser scanners. And lasers, generally, can’t scan mobile coupons.
“These older laser scanners are thwarted by a phone’s reflective screens, backlit displays, and polarizing filters,” Mobeam explains on its website. So if they can’t read coupons, why doesn’t everyone just replace their scanners like Target did? “Good luck getting every last mom and pop store to take on that kind of cost,” Mobeam says, “much less a chain with 7,000 stores!”
Mobeam’s technology is installed into cell phones themselves. It essentially reverses the scanning process, by sending beams of light from your phone to the laser scanners, allowing bar-coded coupons to be read directly from your phone.
Ok, so that will save our stores some money. But what’s in it for us? More coupons, says Mobeam.
“We are working with CPGs (consumer packaged goods companies) and app developers to ensure valuable content is ready when beaming is available on handsets,” Mobeam Chief Operating Officer Marcia Donner tells Coupons in the News. The first Mobeam-enabled phones should be available within the next few months, Donner says, “and beamable apps will steadily increase from that point.”
In other words, if Mobeam builds it, they will come. Mobeam has already partnered with Procter and Gamble, the world’s largest CPG company, and the two are working together to ensure that mobile scannable coupons become available once Mobeam-enabled phones are on the market.
Mobeam “brings consumers one step closer to phasing out paper coupons entirely,” the company says. But then many grocery stores have been working on doing that for years. Safeway just announced that its load-to-card digital coupons represent 30% of all coupons redeemed in its stores (read: “Safeway Chief Predicts End of Paper Coupons”). And its digital coupons don’t require a phone, a bar code or a scanner at all. Isn’t that preferable to inventing a brand-new technology and manufacturing all-new phones, just to extend the life of the already long-in-the-tooth, 40-year-old bar code?
“Load-to-card offers are retailer specific,” Donner tells Coupons in the News. “This means that a CPG company who wants to issue an offer on a load-to-card program has to deal with each retailer individually. That’s an inefficient process.” Mobeam, he says, will allow a company to release a coupon on its own terms. Procter and Gamble, for instance, already prints its own newspaper coupon inserts, so it doesn’t have to rely on SmartSource and RedPlum alone. Mobeam’s technology would allow P&G to offer its own mobile coupons as well, without having to rely on third-party load-to-card digital coupon sites.
That would also give a company like P&G a lot more control over its coupons. Instead of printing “Limit of 4 like coupons per household per day” on its paper coupons and hoping that couponers comply (read: “Fine Print Confounds Couponers”), the company can program its mobile coupons to enforce whatever rules it wants to make.
The drawback for couponers is, if mobile coupons act anything like most digital coupons, and are single-use and not subject to doubling, they’re not exactly an improvement on paper coupons at all. It’s hard to stock up on a good deal if you can only use a coupon on one measly item.
But then digital coupons still represent a tiny fraction of all coupons offered, and redeemed. And Mobeam is far from the first company to promise that its product will make paper coupons obsolete (read: “The Death of Coupons”). Scannable mobile coupons may not eliminate paper coupons on their own, but they can certainly help nudge consumers and companies alike to add digital coupons to our range of savings options.
Now that’s something to sing about.