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MobiSave

The idea, a modern twist on couponing, came before anyone else. The development process lasted a full six years, long enough for a slew of competitors to appear. But now, the newest rebate app – which is also the oldest – is finally ready for prime time.

“We’re ready to go big at this point,” MobiSave CEO David Florence told Coupons in the News.

The MobiSave rebate app recently introduced an Android version, and removed the wait list for its iOS version, officially throwing open the doors and making the app available to millions of potential users all at once.

For many, this represents the first opportunity to add the app to their savings arsenal. Others have been using it for a while. And still others have been on board with MobiSave, and waiting for this moment, for years.

MobiSave was founded way back in 2009, when apps like Ibotta, Checkout 51 and Shopmium were but a gleam in their own founders’ eyes. “We RSVP’d to this party first, but we showed up last,” Florence admitted. But he said MobiSave’s slow, methodical development and growth made it stronger and better in the end – better, perhaps, than all of its competitors.

MobiSave’s initial beta test in late 2011 was open to just a small group of invitation-only users. And as recently as a couple of months ago, would-be users still had to request an invite and wait. “Active memberships are limited until we have enough offers to delight everyone,” they were told.

Compare that to Checkout 51, which launched in December 2012 and had more than half a million users within a year. Ibotta debuted in October 2012, and reached the half-million-user mark in a mere four months.

MobiSave has fewer users than either competitor, and it’s been around longer than both of them. So what took so long for it to move up to the big leagues, while its competitors stole the spotlight?

The MobiSave team took its time refining the app, fixing bugs, adding offers, and relying on word-of-mouth endorsements. “We’ve tried very hard to keep the app simple, but simple is rather complicated,” Florence said. “We try to be respectful of the consumer’s time, so we wanted to create an app that requires the least amount of effort.”

And according to research the company has commissioned, that devotion to simplicity is paying off.

“Receipt-scanning offers the potential to maximize convenience, flexibility, and speed,” reads a recent study conducted by MSW-ARS Research, on behalf of MobiSave. And shoppers who use receipt-scanning apps “want to be able to use the app for purchases made with any retailer they choose, and they want their savings to be redeemable as quickly as possible, with minimal strings attached,” such as inactivity fees, minimum balances and barcode scanning. And MobiSave features just the attributes that users say they want.

The study also predicts a bright future for rebate apps in general. Print-at-home and load-to-card coupons were once the most modern alternatives to traditional paper coupons. But “both of these technologies face challenging countervailing trends,” the study reads. “Print-at-home requires that shoppers have personal access to a printer,” which many don’t (according to the Consumer Electronics Association, in-home printer penetration has dropped from a high of 80% in 2011, to 65% in 2014). And with digital coupons, typically, “redemption of offers is limited to the specific retail outlet of the corresponding loyalty card.”

Enter the receipt-scanning app. “Given the 75% and growing adoption of smart phones and tablets, this can potentially fill the gaps left by print-at home and load-to-card,” the study predicts. “This is especially true of millennials.”

The study’s findings echo those of a recent Wanderful Media survey, which found that consumers are increasingly accepting of, and interested in, receipt-scanning apps.

Manufacturers, however, could use some convincing. Some still aren’t quite sure what to make of this new promotional platform, and whether to participate. “Nobody is jumping in with two feet,” Florence acknowledged. “We’re not suggesting they should turn away from paper coupons,” he added, but receipt-scanning apps could reach a whole new segment of consumers who would never clip a coupon – digital or otherwise.

But manufacturers have other concerns. The Coupon Information Corporation, which represents coupon-issuing companies, recently formed a committee to identity potential problems and make recommendations to improve the reliability and security of receipt-scanning rebate apps. Among the group’s initial concerns involve the ability to combine rebates with paper coupons, and the accuracy of the receipt verification process. Still others have expressed concerns ranging from return fraud (buying products just to claim rebates, then returning them), and whether rebate apps even work to incentivize purchases, or if they really just reward people for buying things they would have bought anyway.

Thanks to its long development and refinement process, Florence says MobiSave ticks virtually all of those boxes. MobiSave rebates must be selected before you shop, not after, which ensures that manufacturers won’t be rewarding you for something you’ve already purchased. Receipt verification is done in-house, rather than outsourced to unreliable and sometimes sloppy receipt-checkers. MobiSave machine-reads receipts, Florence said, with a system that’s carefully calibrated to decipher retailers’ unique receipt formats and learn their product abbreviations. Return fraud may occur, but that’s nothing new – it already happens with products purchased using coupons, so it remains up to retailers to flag serial returners and put a stop to their activity.

And what about the biggest controversy, over whether there’s something shady about allowing you to combine coupons and rebates? SavingStar officially doesn’t allow it, but the other rebate apps make no mention of the practice. That’s made some manufacturers hesitant about getting involved, for fear that too many shoppers will double-dip and get two discounts off one purchase.

Florence said MobiSave can help, by filtering through user profiles and purchase histories to ensure that certain offers are made only to certain users. A manufacturer might want an offer to be made only to millennials, for example, who are less likely to use coupons. Or offers could be made only to users in certain geographies, or who shop at certain stores. Or – if you’re a couponer, cover your ears – MobiSave can even exclude heavy couponers from receiving certain offers. If your receipts regularly show a lot of coupon deductions, some manufacturers might prefer their offers go to someone else instead.

Well, that’s enough to send a shudder through shoppers who have grown accustomed to combining coupons and rebates.

That said, the whole concern about double-dipping may be overwrought anyway. Double-dipping happens all the time, whenever you combine a manufacturer’s coupon and a store coupon, or a coupon with a sale. And there’s such a large pool of available MobiSave consumers who don’t combine deals – since they don’t use coupons – that reaching that untapped market is more important than worrying about giving a small subset of savvy shoppers a double discount, Florence contends.

It’s all part of the learning curve, for a savings platform that’s grown extraordinarily quickly in just a few short years. And even though MobiSave was founded first, then watched as others eclipsed it, Florence believes there’s room for everyone. Eventually, he predicts, the best will rise to the top. “Manufacturers will decide who the winner is,” he said, “because shoppers will go where the offers are.”

And MobiSave is betting that the majority of offers increasingly, eventually, won’t be on paper anymore. “Couponing has long been, and continues to be, a powerful tool for brands to drive trial and avoid switching to discount and store brands, but traditional print coupons are increasingly irrelevant to younger shoppers,” the MSW-ARS study reads. “MobiSave provides more of what shoppers want – speed, flexibility, and simplicity,” the study continues. “Marketers thus have reason to expect that coupons offered through MobiSave will be received by an eager and appreciative audience.”

And now that MobiSave is available to millions more shoppers, marketers, manufacturers and MobiSave itself will be eagerly waiting for that audience’s verdict.

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