Whatever happened to the revolutionary idea that you could routinely have coupons beamed to your phone as you walk through the store?

Many retailers and coupon providers have been promising that for years. But beacon technology hasn’t really reached its potential, and QR codes have been around so long they already seem old-fashioned.

Now, the owner of Coupons.com is hoping to change that.

Quotient Technology has been awarded a patent for a system that would let you “unlock” digital coupons while you’re on the go. You’d earn a coupon by first participating in a certain activity.

“That activity could be requiring a shopper to watch a media message about a product before sending her a digital coupon,” Quotient explains. “The patent discusses how a shopper could get started by aiming her smartphone’s camera at a QR code on product packaging. That would trigger an interactive video that, upon completion, would deliver a digital coupon.”

Alternatively, you could be asked to take a survey, subscribe to a newsletter, share the offer with a friend or post it to social media. Once you do, a digital coupon will be sent to your phone right there in the store, so you can use it right away.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s something that some rebate apps have done for years. Ibotta, for example, frequently requires you to watch a video or answer a survey question before you can “unlock” an offer.


Quotient’s version, in contrast, is envisioned as being location-based. Instead of sitting at home unlocking rebates on a cash-back app, you’d be interacting with brands and receiving coupons while you’re walking through the aisles of your store.

The documentation for the patent awarded this week also describes other variations of the proposed system. If you scan the bar code of a product you’re considering buying, the system could send you a relevant coupon to close the deal – for that product, or a competing one.

Or, instead of scanning a QR or bar code, you could be “pinged” by kiosks or in-store displays that use radio-frequency tags and Bluetooth technology to communicate with your phone as you walk by. Then it could tell you what you need to do to unlock a particular offer, without you having to scan anything first.

In potentially the most intriguing application of the technology, the system may consider various factors before determining precisely what coupon you’re eligible to unlock. These include “user preferences, user shopping histories… the current date and/or time, the location of the client device, weather forecasts, the type of the client device, the contents of the user’s shopping list” and so on.

“For example,” the patent documentation continues, “a user may be provided coupon offers of greater value when the user is not at a store and of lesser value when the user is already at a store. As another example, the user may be provided coupon offers of lesser value when an item is already on the user’s shopping list and of greater value when the item is not on the user’s shopping list. As another example, the user may be provided different coupon offers depending on how the user responds to a web survey presented to the user.”

Earning a patent is a long process – the earliest version of this particular patent application was filed back in 2011. So six years later, the question now is – when are you likely to start seeing these coupons?

Quotient isn’t saying. It declined comment on when, how or whether it plans to roll out this new technology.

But keep your eye out and your phone handy, just in case. Regularly getting coupon offers beamed to your phone while you shop, may finally be a step closer to reality.

Image source: Quotient

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