A corporate consolidation in the world of digital coupons could help streamline the process of searching for paperless savings. More stores’ digital offers will likely start to look more similar, which could turn out to be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.

Inmar and Kroger announced this morning that Inmar is purchasing Kroger-owned You Technology, combining two competing digital coupon platforms.

So what will that mean for you?

Unlike paper coupons that can be used virtually anywhere you shop, digital coupons are retailer-specific. So you have to go to a store’s website or app to load a digital coupon to your account that can only be used at that store. If you want to get the discount at another store, you have to visit that other store’s website or app and hope they have the same offer available.

Say Target has a digital coupon available for 50 cents off Cheerios. Cheerios are on sale at Kroger, though, so it would be better if you could use the digital coupon there. But the Cheerios coupon isn’t available at Kroger. Maybe you could try Publix? Turns out the digital coupon isn’t available there, either.

That’s because Target’s digital coupons are provided by Quotient Technology, owner of Coupons.com. Kroger’s digital coupons are provided by YouTech. And Publix’s are provided by Inmar. Different retailers partner with different digital coupon providers who offer a different selection of digital coupons. Most retailers partner with Quotient, YouTech or Inmar, the three major players in the business.

And now there will be just two.

In terms of consistency, that could prove to be a good thing. The digital coupons offered by retailers who currently work with YouTech, and those who work with Inmar, will likely start to look more similar, since they’ll all be provided by the same combined company now. That means the digital coupon you see on Kroger’s website or app will be more likely to appear on Publix’s as well, and you can choose whether you want to use it at one store, the other, or even both. Retailers that partner with Quotient will have a different slate of offers. And that’s about it – you won’t have to scroll through hundreds of digital coupons at three or more stores to see whose are the “best”.


Of course, “consistency” could prove to be another way of saying “less variety”. With only two major players in the digital coupon business, you may start to see many of the same offers in all the stores where you shop. The combined Inmar-YouTech will still be able to provide some retailer-specific digital coupons, and having fewer digital coupon platforms to work with could free up some resources for brands to be able to provide more unique and personalized offers. But for the most part, there may not be nearly as much difference anymore in the digital coupon selection at the stores that Inmar and YouTech currently serve.

The deal is a big move for Inmar, a curious one for Kroger, a concerning one for Quotient and a potentially troubling one for Catalina.

In its annual summaries of coupon trends, Inmar has been talking up digital coupons for some time. The company is even in the process of getting out of printable coupons – a format it says is beginning to “fade into the sunset” – by shutting down its Hopster printable coupon portal by the end of this year. So acquiring YouTech represents a big bet by Inmar on digital coupons’ future.

As for Kroger, it’s unclear exactly why it chose to part with YouTech. Unique among major retailers, Kroger essentially has been providing its own digital coupons through its subsidiary, which it purchased in 2014. YouTech also powers the digital coupons for other Kroger-owned stores like Fry’s, Fred Meyer and Harris Teeter, as well as non-Kroger stores like ShopRite, Raley’s and Big Y. Kroger is in the midst of a modernization effort, so it’s possible it chose to free up some cash by selling off YouTech while retaining access to the YouTech platform once it’s owned by Inmar.

Kroger is portraying the move as a positive. “The combination of Kroger’s unique assets and personalization expertise and Inmar’s technology solutions now with YouTech will drive more innovation and value for Kroger customers and CPG partners,” Kroger’s chief digital officer Yael Cosset said in a statement. “By joining together with Inmar, YouTech will have the opportunity to expand both its retailer relationships outside of Kroger and its portfolio of capabilities.”

Quotient, meanwhile, now finds itself with a bigger, stronger digital coupon competitor. And the deal is just one more headache for Cellfire owner Catalina Marketing, which filed for bankruptcy last week. Its Cellfire digital coupon platform just never got big enough to represent a strong competitor to the big three.

Make that the big two.

The Sunday coupon insert business is already dominated by just two companies – News America, which publishes the SmartSource inserts, and Valassis, which publishes RetailMeNot Everyday and P&G’s brandSAVER. Paper coupon processing is dominated by two companies – Valassis-owned NCH Marketing, and Inmar. Now digital coupons will be dominated by just two companies as well – just enough to provide some competition, while also offering some consistency.

We’re still not at the point of having “universal digital coupons” that you can clip once and use anywhere you choose to shop, which some predict is where digital coupons are ultimately headed. But as more stores’ digital coupon offers are likely to start looking more similar – we may be getting one step closer to that very future.

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