It would appear that it’s a lot easier to save money with coupons, than it is to make money.

As a privately-owned company planning to become public, Coupons.com is pulling back the curtain on its finances for the first time. And even though it’s the largest, oldest printable coupon site on the internet, it hasn’t actually turned a profit.


That could explain, in part, why the company is seeking to raise up to $100 million with an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, under the symbol “COUP.” A just-released IPO filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission confirms reports late last year that Coupons.com planned to go public this year.

In its SEC documents, Coupons.com begins with the bright side, emphasizing its attractiveness to potential investors: Its websites earn about 17 million unique visits a month. Some 1.3 billion coupons were printed or downloaded last year. The company works with more than 2,000 brands from more than 700 companies. “With the decline in newspaper readership, the effectiveness of traditional channels has declined,” Coupons.com says of the coupon business. “We believe that the simplicity of digital coupons is broadening the demographic reach and driving the increased use of digital coupons.”

(To couponers, “digital coupons” generally refer to the paperless kind that are loaded to a loyalty card. But in the industry, printable coupons are considered part of the “digital” category, since they’re offered online and it’s up to the consumer to print them.)

But the SEC filing also goes on to warn investors of the potential down side of buying into Coupons.com. “We have incurred net losses since inception, and we may not be able to generate sufficient revenues to achieve or subsequently maintain profitability.”


“Net losses since inception” – in other words, Coupons.com hasn’t been in the black since its founding in 1998. Revenue is on the rise, as Coupons.com took in about $91 million in 2011, $112 million in 2012, and $115 million just in the first three quarters of 2013. During that same time period, however, the company suffered net losses of $23 million, $59 million and $12.8 million, respectively. “Historically the growth rate of our business, and as a result, our revenue growth, has varied from quarter-to-quarter and year-to-year, and we expect that variability to continue,” Coupons.com notes.

So the fact that the most well-established printable coupon site on the web had net losses of nearly $100 million in the past three years alone, may not exactly instill you with confidence about buying into the company. But some analysts say, when it comes to companies’ efforts to attract investors, making money is overrated.

Some investors are looking for “a lottery ticket on a company disrupting a very, very large market,” Paul Deninger of investment bank Evercore Group LLC recently told the Wall Street Journal. Such investors are more interested in a company’s potential, than its profits. A company that’s already making money when it files for an IPO could signal that it’s already matured, or worse yet, peaked.

Even though Coupons.com is 16 years old, far older than Facebook and Twitter were when they filed their much-heralded IPOs, and far more established than its printable coupon competitors like SmartSource.com, RedPlum.com and Catalina (which bowed out of the printable business earlier this year), Coupons.com is trying to portray itself as a company with a lot of potential – for growth and, eventually, profits.

For one, Coupons.com makes money every time you print a coupon, not when you redeem it. So all of those coupons you print, but never get around to using before they expire, are still money in Coupons.com’s pockets. An IPO will attract media attention – free advertising! – bringing in more users who’ll print more coupons, thereby generating more revenue.

The company also has bigger plans. It’s aiming to broaden its reach, offering more non-grocery coupons, stepping up its paperless load-to-card offerings, and expanding internationally. A cool $100 million that a public stock offering could bring, would certainly help the company’s expansion plans.

With shareholders to answer to, it’s unlikely Coupons.com will be able to go another 16 years without turning a profit. Shareholders of the daily-deal company Groupon are already antsy, two years after that company went public, as the company has so far failed to find a way to make money. The online coupon code site RetailMeNot, on the other hand, was already profitable when it launched its IPO last year, and its stock price is flying high.

So there is money to be made in coupons. Coupons.com, with the help of investors’ millions, will just have to find a way to do it.

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