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Mobile coupons

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These days, it seems, we do everything with our phones and mobile devices. Except couponing, that is – at least not in massive numbers, and in most cases, not as a replacement for paper coupons. Still, for years now, a number of industry observers have promised that the death of paper coupons is riiight around the corner. And now a couple of new studies are also predicting that digital is about to get very big, very soon.

Any day now…

The first, a report from U.K.-based Juniper Research, predicts that the number of worldwide mobile users redeeming coupons will reach 559 million this year, and will nearly double to 1.06 billion in the next five years. Much of that growth is expected to occur in Asia, but the majority of mobile coupons will be redeemed in the U.S., “which we believe will increasingly transition from a paper based couponing behavior to one which is primarily digital,” the report forecasts.

Another study from Forrester Consulting, commissioned by the online coupon code site RetailMeNot, argues that “digital coupons are as relevant as ever, as retailers’ omni-channel sales strategies become the norm.” The report found that a majority of online shoppers surveyed said that digital coupons “hold the most sway when it comes to influencing a consumer’s purchasing decision.”

Both studies follow a report from the coupon processing company Inmar, whose 2014 Mid-Year Coupon Trends Report found that digital coupons showed the greatest rate of growth in the first half of the year, in both distribution and redemption. The number of digital coupons offered surged 58%, while the number used was up 45%.

And yet the same Inmar report noted that digital coupons still represented a mere 1.6% of all coupons redeemed so far this year. Paper coupons continue to dominate, and Sunday insert coupons alone represent 91% of all coupons distributed and 43% of all coupons redeemed.

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So digital coupon use may be surging, statistically speaking, but when it comes to becoming the norm, it seems digital coupons still have a very long way to go.

Juniper believes that digital coupons redeemed via mobile devices are a sea change just waiting to happen. “Mobile couponing represents a case of suppressed demand,” its report states. Both the Juniper and Forrester studies blame retailers’ inadequate point-of-sale systems and undertrained sales staff for holding down mobile coupon growth. More people will use paperless coupons, the studies contend, if more stores are better about accepting them.

But other observers offer decidedly different opinions. “Mobile couponing remains a platform that is as undoubtedly attractive as it is problematic,” MediaPost’s Steve Smith writes. “The readiness of retailers to accept the smartphone thrust in their face with a discount offer is uneven at best. The coupons themselves are often poorly formatted for easy checkout redemption.” Not to mention, “there is the etiquette of whether the cashier should even be handling your phone.”

Digital coupons that are applied automatically, via a loyalty card or customer ID number, would seem to stand a better chance of success than coupons that have to be scanned from a smartphone screen. Load-to-card grocery coupons are fairly ubiquitous now, and while the more tech-savvy profess to love them, many couponers continue to view them with suspicion. It’s less about customer convenience, some argue, than it is about making it easier for stores and manufacturers to control and monitor the number and types of coupons any particular shopper can use. Acquiring and using multiples of the same coupon, sharing, trading, buying, selling and even counterfeiting coupons are essentially no longer an issue, if they’re all digital.

In the end, the reports all note the obvious – that the younger generation is embracing digital and mobile coupons at a faster rate than their elders. 60% of consumers under the age of 35 have redeemed a coupon on their phone, Forrester found. “This points to a new emerging future of shopping,” the report concludes.

Can you picture today’s kids clipping coupons from the Sunday newspaper a few decades from now? Will there even be coupon inserts – much less a Sunday newspaper – a few decades from now? The future of couponing may indeed be digital, as these reports and others like them keep telling us. But remember, it’s not the future yet. So keep on clipping those coupons – while you still can.

Image sources: Target, Walgreens

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