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SnipSnap coupons

It’s been a while since SnipSnap has been in the news. The controversial coupon app is still in business, letting users take pictures of paper store coupons and redeem them as mobile coupons. It’s still embroiled in a lawsuit with one coupon provider. And it’s still looking for ways to incorporate manufacturer’s coupons into its app.

Now, a newly-published patent application sheds some light on just how that would work – and how it ultimately might not work at all.

SnipSnap deals primarily with retailer-issued coupons, which it encourages users to photograph and upload to the app. The paper coupons are then “transformed” into mobile-optimized digital coupons, and can be shared with others who use the service. “Displaying an image of the coupon on a screen of a mobile device,” SnipSnap’s patent application explains, “is usually a sufficient method for the store to honor redemption of the presented coupon.”

Some retailers disagree, and refuse to accept coupons presented via SnipSnap. And one coupon publisher, KidStuff, sued SnipSnap last year, accusing it of allowing users to “illegally access, copy and redeem” its printed coupons.

Yet SnipSnap has soldiered on, working on ways to add manufacturer’s coupons to its mix of digitized paper offers. Unlike retailer coupons, “simply presenting the (manufacturer) coupon image on a mobile device is not sufficient, as the store needs to have a record of the coupon being used in order to be reimbursed from the manufacturer,” SnipSnap’s patent application explains.

So its proposed patent describes how to get around that problem – though the solution may create a host of new problems.

SnipSnap’s “Scan at Home” system would allow users to photograph a paper manufacturer’s coupon, and turn it into a digital offer by linking it to a store loyalty card. The act of uploading the coupon image would identify it to the manufacturer as being “clipped”. Then after the item is purchased and the user’s loyalty card is scanned, the store would be reimbursed accordingly.

One challenge, SnipSnap acknowledges, is that this system requires a third party coupon processor to help link the scanned coupon to a loyalty card. And significantly, it also “requires that the manufacturer who originated the offer has approved this form of paperless redemption.”

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And would manufacturers go for that? Virtually all manufacturer’s coupons prohibit reproduction and “transfer”, which is essentially what taking a picture and presenting it in place of a paper coupon is.

And there are other problems. For example, a user can snap photos of a single paper coupon over and over again, and upload that one coupon to SnipSnap multiple times. Groups of friends can share a single coupon insert, and all of them will get copies of the same coupons by snapping away. Users can take photos of coupons that don’t belong to them (by paging through newspapers or magazines in the store, for example). And they can even email or post their photos online, for others to upload to their own loyalty cards.

SnipSnap’s patent application says it can identify and invalidate identical photos uploaded multiple times, but that’s the only concession it makes to these many potential problems.

Some industry professionals believe a plan like this simply won’t fly. “I can’t see any reason someone would want to take a paper coupon and remove any limits on it,” Coupon Information Corporation Executive Director Bud Miller told Coupons in the News last year. “I’m not aware of how manufacturer’s coupons could be an appropriate part of that site.”

SnipSnap says it’s all about making couponing easier for shoppers. “Due to the volume of available coupons, their small physical size, and inconvenience of carrying such coupons,” its patent application reads, “paper and loyalty card linked coupons are difficult for consumers to keep track of.” As a result, “only a miniscule portion of available coupons” are redeemed by consumers.

But manufacturers may want it that way. It’s true that there are far more coupons available than redeemed, but manufacturers factor that redemption rate into their promotion budgets. If their coupons are too easy to use (and use again, and again), they may have no choice but to cut back on their available offers.

Yet SnipSnap remains optimistic. “Currently the app works great for retail, restaurant, and all kinds of local coupons,” SnipSnap says in a FAQ on its website, “but manufacturer coupons aren’t supported yet. We hope to introduce this functionality in the very near future.”

Someday, perhaps, all manufacturer’s coupons really will be digital. But if the manufacturers have their way, probably not like this.

Image source: Flickr/MissMessie

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