Checkout 51

If you follow many couponing blogs, you may have heard by now about Checkout 51, the new savings app that launched in the U.S. last week. But what’s the story behind this startup? And is it worth signing up for yet another scan-your-receipt-and-send-it-in app, in an increasingly competitive space where not every business has survived?

Well, Checkout 51‘s founders want to assure users that they’re no Johnny-come-lately to the savings app business, and they’re here for the long haul. And yes, they’re already plenty familiar with being described as “similar to Ibotta.”

Truth is, both Ibotta and Checkout 51 were conceived and developed at roughly the same time. Denver-based Ibotta officially launched in October 2012, just as Checkout 51‘s developers were putting the finishing touches on their app for a December 2012 launch. And both were following a trail blazed by similar scan-your-receipts apps like Endorse and Receipt Hog.

But if you haven’t heard of Checkout 51 until recently, that’s because its founders are based in Toronto – and, until last week, the app was available in Canada only. More than 600,000 Canadian shoppers signed up during Checkout 51‘s first year, saving more than $2.3 million. “We’re now the number-one savings app in Canada,” co-founder Noah Godfrey told Coupons in the News.

That success led Godfrey, along with his fellow co-founders Pema Hegan and Andrew McGrath, to expand southward. Checkout 51 officially launched in the U.S. last Thursday, January 9th. It’s too soon to share statistics about how many people have signed up and how much they’ve saved, Godfrey said, but he and his partners are very pleased with the response they’ve gotten so far.

Reviews from those who’ve tried out the app, have been positive all around. It’s “awesome” and “super easy,” reported Living Rich With Coupons. “Easy breezy,” added I Heart Publix. “I am already pleased with the offers so far!” And from Super-Couponing founder Jill Cataldo: “This app is one to watch.”

“Our objective was to make the simplest savings experience for our users,” Godfrey told Coupons in the News. Surrendering for a moment to the inevitable comparisons with Ibotta, Checkout 51 doesn’t require you to scan products’ bar codes (Ibotta does), it works at any retailer, including online stores (Ibotta users must choose from pre-selected retailers), non-smartphone users can access Checkout 51 on the web (Ibotta is app-based only) and there are no games to play or tasks to perform to “earn” savings opportunities. You just buy any of the products that match Checkout 51‘s offers, scan your receipt, and start adding money to your account.

Unlike Ibotta, though, there’s a short window of opportunity to redeem Checkout 51’s offers. New offers go up each Thursday morning, and purchases must be made and submitted before the offers switch out the following Thursday. And there’s currently no electronic payment option – once you reach $20 in earnings, you get an old-fashioned check in the mail.

Still, cash is cash no matter how it makes its way into your pocket – especially when such savings opportunities barely existed little more than a year ago.

So why the recent plethora of scan-your-receipts apps? “We were looking at an industry that could use some improvement,” Godfrey said. Paper coupons have existed, largely unchanged, for well over 100 years. They continue to serve an important marketing function – but only to a point. “In the past, if you distributed coupons, you had no idea who’s using them,” Godfrey explained.

Now, by making offers via apps like Checkout 51 and Ibotta, manufacturers and marketers gain access to valuable receipt data. Both apps assure users they do not share personally identifiable information, but the receipts you send in let marketers gather information such as your location, the stores you shop at, what offers you redeemed, what other products you bought, how many coupons you used, etc. “If you understand the types of people who buy your products, that helps you understand the consumers better,” Godfrey explained. And understanding consumers better could help marketers make us better offers in the long run – better, at least, than just churning out coupons and setting up eye-catching in-store displays, and hoping for the best.

If any companies are concerned that the savings app market is getting a little crowded, no one is saying so publicly. In theory, they could end up paying for the same promotion twice, if enough users “double dip” by taking advantage of the same offer via multiple apps, and sending them the very same receipt data more than once. There’s no prohibition against doing so. But Endorse faltered when it said its offers could not be combined with paper coupons. It also suffered from the fact that it had few established relationships with brands, while Ibotta and Checkout 51 locked in plenty of partners before they launched. That’s partly the reason Endorse went bust last year, while Ibotta and Checkout 51 continue to grow.

As it begins a second week in the U.S., Checkout 51 has unveiled a new slate of offers that its founders hope shoppers will find appealing – and rewarding. Among them is a new-user bonus of $2, for uploading your first receipt of $20 or more.

And if you find yourself wondering about the name, Checkout 51 says the explanation is as simple as using the app itself. If you visualize a supercenter that has 50 checkouts, “we’re like the 51st checkout lane,” Godfrey explained, “the one after you leave the store.”

For many couponers accustomed to saving as much as possible in the store, the opportunity to save even after you leave is one they welcome – and one that Checkout 51 hopes to continue offering for years to come.

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