Walmart doesn’t offer digital coupons, doesn’t accept coupons on online orders, and using paper coupons in the store can sometimes turn into a hassle for couponers and cashiers alike. But a new proposal suggested by the country’s largest retailer could make couponing at Walmart a breeze.

In a newly-published patent application, succinctly titled “Mobile Coupon System”, Walmart describes a process that would allow you to combine all of your coupons – digital and paper – into a single bar code that can be scanned at the checkout, or even while shopping online.

It’s a potentially game-changing idea in theory, though it’s unclear exactly how it might work in practice.

Walmart describes a typical in-store shopping scenario, in which a shopper “brings in stacks of coupons”. Checking out with said stacks “is a time-consuming process for the customers, as well as cashiers, and is not sustainable in the growing mobile world,” the patent application reads. Scanning paper coupons one by one “greatly increases the waiting time for customers at checkout registers, which in turn decreases the amount of items sold, productivity, and many other qualities.”

So Walmart is proposing an app, or a function within its own app, that would “consolidate multiple coupons at one time using a single digital UPC barcode”. A shopper would be able to browse through a selection of digital coupons and load them to their account. They could also “scan any external coupons, such as paper coupons or coupons and incentives from other sources”. All of the coupons would be combined with any rewards or credits the shopper may have associated with their account – such as a Savings Catcher balance – into a single code displayed on a mobile device. Then all you’d have to do is scan the code when checking out, and all of your coupons and discounts would be applied instantly.

Walmart envisions the digital and paper coupons being validated and processed in real time. That would eliminate the lag time that currently exists between scanning a coupon and the manufacturer reimbursing the store.

The patent application also proposes offering couponing suggestions to customers as they shop. As you build a shopping list, or put items in your online cart for pickup or delivery, “the system may make suggestions to the consumer,” the patent documentation reads. If there’s a coupon available for a dollar off two items and you only have one in your cart, the system could suggest that you buy another in order to get the discount. Or it could access your purchase history and point out coupons that are available for items you’ve previously purchased.


And if you’ve used the app to scan paper coupons and add them to your account, you could even use those coupons for online purchases – something that’s not possible anywhere now.

All of these ideas sound great. But how feasible are they? And how likely is it that this system will show up at a Walmart near you any time soon?

Walmart, of course, doesn’t even offer digital coupons right now. So before it starts doing anything fancy like combining digital and paper coupons into a single bar code, it has to actually start accepting digital coupons.

But the bigger question that goes unaddressed in the patent application is what Walmart expects shoppers to do with their paper coupons once they upload them to the app. If they have to hand them over to the cashier for verification, that would defeat the purpose of digitizing them. If Walmart expects shoppers to discard the coupons once they’re uploaded, well, that’s awfully trusting of them. What’s to stop you from using the same paper coupon again after you’ve already used it in digital form via the app? What’s to stop you from uploading the same paper coupon multiple times in order to get discounts on multiple items?

Digitizing paper manufacturer’s coupons is something many have proposed, but no one seems to have figured out how to pull off. SnipSnap pioneered the idea of turning paper store coupons into digital coupons, but it got a lot of grief from retailers and manufacturers when manufacturer’s coupons slipped into its system. It later filed its own patent application describing a method of digitizing paper manufacturer’s coupons, but similarly failed to explain how to prevent shoppers from using and reusing the same coupons.

The creators of a proposed app called MoiZoi tried to solve that problem with an unusual and unwieldy process. Users would have to mark their coupons with a MoiZoi-provided stamp before uploading them, then the coupons would need to be mailed to MoiZoi so it could validate them and send them in for reimbursement. But MoiZoi never got off the ground.

So Walmart’s proposal may have the mechanics down, but it too needs to figure out the practicalities before this idea can become a reality. At least it’s trying, though. “There is a need for systems to synthesize and streamline the application of coupons and incentives in the mobile space,” the patent application argues.

And no one who shows up at Walmart with “stacks of coupons” Is likely to argue with that.

Image source: Walmart

One Comment

  1. Manufacturers have to do something with coupons to cut down on the fraud that is happening with them now. Above is correct – it will not cut down on fraud because you cannot trust customers to toss coupons they have scanned. Walmart is where these fraudsters go to with their coupons to begin with.

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