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Searching for a coupon before you shop? Chances are, you’re searching on your phone.

New research shows that online searches for coupons and deals have migrated from desktops to mobile devices, in record time.

Most of us already use our phones or tablets to shop – so why not use them to save, too?

In a new report, consumer research firm Hitwise analyzed hundreds of millions of online searches, and found that 77% of all searches for the term “coupon” were made from a mobile device. So were 73% of searches for “sale”, and 68% of queries for “discount”.

That suggests that ease of internet access while we’re out and about, means more of us are no longer just searching for deals before we shop, but while we shop.

Have you ever picked up an item in a store, then picked up your phone to search for a coupon before deciding whether to buy? That ever-present impulse to pick up our phone may be resulting in fewer impulse purchases, and more purchase decisions that are influenced by coupons.

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“The smartphone has become an indispensable shopping tool, providing consumers – sometimes within feet of a register – with information or offers that could seal or jeopardize a transaction,” the Hitwise report reads.

Paper coupons still reign supreme when it comes to the types of coupons that are most often issued, and redeemed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re sitting at home with scissors waiting for the Sunday paper. Separate research from the coupon processor and market research company Inmar determined that we’re finding just as many coupons online, as we are in print.

According to Inmar’s Mid-Year Promotion Industry Analysis, Sunday insert coupons make up more than 90% of all coupons distributed, and 36% of all coupons redeemed. But when it comes to coupon discovery – or where shoppers go to find coupons – online has pulled even with offline. 27% of coupons are discovered on the internet, and another 27% in the Sunday newspaper. When you add the 11% of coupons that are discovered via mobile app, then online coupon discovery in all of its forms has surpassed the Sunday paper altogether.

Inmar says it’s because online is becoming more efficient, and favored by consumers. “Shoppers’ expectations of greater convenience and more immediate access to relevant offers are creating both opportunities and challenges for marketers,” Inmar CEO David Mounts said, noting that some marketers are struggling to keep up with increasing shopper demand for paperless coupons.

Hitwise says coupon issuers ought to embrace the shift. Mobile searches for coupons and deals show that “consumers are still in play even after entering a store,” the report reads. “Understanding the device from which different types of searches typically originate and then formulating a strategy for engaging the consumers behind those searches is critical. And the risk of not doing so – lost sales, unhappy customers, missed opportunities, etc. – are enormous.”

Whether on a desktop or a mobile device, whether online or offline, a search for “coupons” doesn’t do any good if there aren’t any coupons to find. And retailers need to recognize that, Hitwise says: “Marketers who think there is time to prepare before the mobile tipping point occurs should take note that mobile devices already account for a majority of online searches and the time for action is now.”

Otherwise, an unsuccessful in-store quest for coupons from your phone, may send you on a quest for coupons – somewhere else.

Photo by Jason A. Howie

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