You’ve probably heard all about location-based coupons that pop up on your phone when you approach or enter a store. But how about coupons that self-destruct if you leave the store?

Coupons triggered by your specific whereabouts aren’t yet commonplace. But IBM is already taking the idea one step further. In a newly-published patent application, the company gives the concept a new twist, by describing a system that would offer you coupons when you enter a store, or even a specific aisle of a store – and then take them away if you don’t use them right then and there.

In the application entitled “Boundary-specific electronic offers”, IBM describes proximity marketing as having “tremendous potential for marketers and venue operators”. If consumers “know that by entering a store, the retailer may offer additional savings above and beyond current advertised sales,” the application goes on, “the consumers may be more likely to patronize the store.”

And if they know that by exiting the store, they’ll lose those “additional savings” forever – they might be more likely to buy right away.

The patent documentation describes a system that would send mobile coupons to your phone “which are specific to a boundary location and expire when the consumer exits the boundary”. For example, “if the physical boundary is a shoe store, the notification may be ‘Buy one, get one free shoes this visit only!’” the application explains. If the boundary is more specific, like a certain aisle of a grocery store, “the notification may be ‘Put a box of cereal in your basket before you leave the cereal aisle and get 20% off!’”

That sounds similar to the type of location-based coupons that many others have proposed. But IBM’s idea then goes further.


If the system detects that you’re nearing the edge of the defined boundary – that is, leaving the designated aisle or heading for the exit – your phone will ping with a followup notification, such as “Don’t forget, this special offer expires when you leave the store!” Variations of the system might allow you to save the offer for later, with a notification reading “Tap the screen to extend the coupon for an additional 24 hours.” Or it could offer you a lesser discount, subtly encouraging you to opt for the better deal: “The 20% off coupon will expire when you leave the store. Would you like to accept an offer of 10% off when you return next time?”

If you decide not to accept any of these offers and leave the store anyway, the system “renders the coupon or promotion as invalid so the user cannot redeem the coupon in the future”.

So it’s a high-tech way of telling you – use it or lose it.

Additional proposed variations on the idea would offer different discounts to different shoppers. You might get a personalized offer based on your purchase history. Or, if you’re a frequent shopper, you might be offered “a more significant discount than (the system) may offer to an occasional shopper,” the application explains.

There could even be a timed component to the offers. You might only get an offer during a specific time period – like a promotional “happy hour” – or the system would only send you an offer after you’ve been in the defined area for a certain amount of time. If you’ve been in the store for a while and haven’t checked out yet, for example, the system might surmise that you’re taking your time browsing and might be receptive to a deal.

One thing this proposal, and others like it, have not quite specified is how to avoid spamming you with coupon notifications. Do you really want your phone buzzing with coupons being offered – and taken away – each time you enter or leave a store, or each time you go down a different aisle? It’s daunting enough to think of all the location-based coupon offers that could pop up on your phone – but perhaps even more daunting to envision your phone pestering you when you don’t use the coupons, warning you that you won’t get a deal like that again, then notifying you each time your unwanted coupons go unredeemed.

There’s no word on when or whether IBM plans to go forward with the idea. So when it comes to this take-it-or-leave-it coupon proposal, time will tell whether IBM will take it to market – or leave it on the drawing board.

Image source: Mobext

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