Mystery coupon

Some coupon issuers have experimented with delivering coupons to you as you drive. Others are playing around with the concept of “dynamic” coupons whose values can change by the minute. So why not combine the two – and create coupons with mystery values, that make you drive all over town before you can determine whether they’re worth redeeming?

The idea is described in a newly-published patent application from AOL. And AOL sees a problem with coupons as we know them. “Conventional solutions related to coupons all require the promotion associated with the coupon to be determined before the coupon is sent,” the patent application reads.

That is kind of the way coupons typically work. But not according to AOL’s vision.

With its proposed “Systems and Methods for Dynamically Determining Promotions Associated With Digital Coupons,” AOL envisions sending location-based coupons to your mobile device or GPS navigation device, alerting you that a coupon is available for a store nearby. But then comes the twist – “once a consumer receives the coupon, the exact promotion associated with that coupon is undetermined by the advertiser and unknown to the consumer. For example, the coupon will prompt the consumer to go to a location associated with the coupon, by explaining that the promotion will only be revealed at such a location.”

So your device will tell you that a coupon is available – but it won’t tell you what kind of savings the coupon offers. “By not revealing the promotion associated with the coupon, the mystery involved may also entice the consumer to go to the location,” the documentation predicts.

Because couponers love surprises! Especially when it involves having to alter your plans, head to a store you hadn’t intended on visiting, and making a purchase you hadn’t intended on making. You know, to “save” some money.


You just won’t know how much money, until you redeem the coupon.

AOL’s precise implementation of its idea may be patent-worthy, but the idea itself is not entirely new. Lord & Taylor, for one, offered “surprise coupons” to shoppers last year, when they wandered within about 1,600 feet of a Lord & Taylor store. And the retailer reported that about 20% of those who received the coupons, followed through with a purchase, which is a pretty decent percentage.

And that, AOL suggests, makes mystery coupons particularly appealing to coupon issuers.

“By sending coupons with preset promotions, advertisers risk providing, in advance, coupons with too high or too low a value to produce the desired sales results,” the documentation reads. Tweaking a coupon’s value on the fly, and keeping that information from the potential coupon user, “help(s) to promote the sale and further increase profit.”

The coupons could be particularly profitable, if they turn out to be something of a bait-and-switch. The whole concept of the coupon platform is that it knows where you are. If you’re close to a store, it can provide you a coupon. So it stands to reason, that as you get closer to the store, arrive at the store, enter the store – the coupon platform knows that, too. Once you’ve been lured into making a purchase with the promise of a mystery coupon, the value of which the retailer can change at will, the ultimate discount may not turn out to be very large. Why give away too much, after all, if the retailer knows it’s already about to make the sale?

So that “dynamic” coupon may not turn out to be very desirable.

Location-based coupons are still in their infancy, so there are a lot of ideas out there that may or may not succeed. But you have to give props to AOL, Lord & Taylor and potentially others for trying something different, at least. If the idea doesn’t fly, among coupon users who prefer to know how much they’re going to save before they spend anything, there’s little mystery as to why. But if the “mystery coupon” idea ends up catching on, the only mystery may be turn out to be why no one tried it sooner.

Photo by ePublicist


  1. This idea may apeal to someone, but I don’t know that group is couponers. Most couponers I know ‘work out’ their deals very carefully in advance of going to the store. Myself, when I go to the store I have a VERY specific list w/item, quantity, coupons & price down to the penny. We’ll see.

  2. I don’t think I would go somewhere I wasn’t planning on not knowing what the discount would be. Might end up costing you more in the long run.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Privacy Policy
Disclosure Policy