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When you pick out a product, and want to know if there’s a coupon available, there are a few easy ways to find out. You can dig through your coupon organizer, search an online database, or scan through your store’s digital coupon site.

But what if an app could do the coupon searching for you – and companies could compete for the right to make their coupons available to you?

That’s the idea behind a proposed new system, which would allow brands to analyze your grocery shopping list, your personal profile and purchasing habits in order to bid for your business.

Conducting auctions for coupons seems to be a hot topic lately. One recently-published patent application described a system in which brands could bid for the right to have their coupons print out as you’re checking out.

Now, another new patent application describes a system in which brands will bid for the right to offer you digital coupons while you shop.

The proposed “Method of Generating and Delivering Digital Product Coupons through Reverse Micro Coupon Auctions” is attributed to two California individuals whose corporate affiliation, if any, is not disclosed on the application.

Here’s how it would work. As you shop, you use the prospective app to scan an item’s bar code. Then the manufacturer of that product, a competing product, or complementary products, would bid for the right to provide you with a digital coupon that could help influence your purchase.

“The user would view multiple manufacturers of similar products auctioning digital coupons for their products,” the patent application reads. Manufacturers could change their offers, making them more attractive and more lucrative, until the best coupon “wins” the right to be offered to you. “This process is essentially a reverse auction,” the application explains. “As opposed to increasing a bid in an attempt to buy a product, the bid (i.e., the selling price of the product) is lowered in an attempt to sell a product.”

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But how will the manufacturers know if you’re even interested in the coupon that wins the auction? There’s not much point in competing and winning an auction to offer you a coupon, if you don’t care to use it.

So the bidders will be able to take your personal profile and purchase history into account. When you sign up for the app, you’ll be asked to provide data like your age, gender, income level, geographical location and other information. The app will then learn about you, and what you like to buy.

In addition, “the system’s algorithm detects which products are commonly purchased by shoppers and which products are commonly purchased together,” the patent documentation explains. “The system thus makes product recommendations to shoppers based on this information… For example, if a hot cocoa product is added to the shopping list, a coupon for marshmallows may be suggested.” That is, if the marshmallow manufacturer wins the bidding against the hot cocoa maker, and other hot cocoa and marshmallow brands, all of which could compete to offer you a coupon.

Once you clip the coupons that the app offers you, you just check out and the savings come off automatically.

The patent application envisions some other features in the app, that might turn out to be even more useful to you than the coupon auction. If you use the app to create a shopping list, a “store mapping” function would “allow the customer to map the most time-efficient route to procure items on their shopping list.” A “proximity alert” feature would cause your phone to vibrate as you approach a product on your list.

And a “store locator feature” would analyze the items on your shopping list, and check prices and available coupons at nearby stores. “A total savings value is then calculated for each of the store location results,” the application explains, which would allow you to do your shopping at the store that offers the lowest overall price.

It may sound great in theory, but as always, getting such a system to work would require a whole lot of manufacturers and retailers to play along. And having brands pitch coupons to you, instead of simply searching for existing coupons yourself, may prove to be more annoying than helpful.

At this point, it’s too soon to tell whether the app will become reality. But if it does, then finding coupons for the things you want to buy could become a whole lot easier. And finding coupons for the things the highest bidders want you to buy, could as well.

Photo by Amy Jeffries

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