When you use a paper coupon, the store takes it so you can’t use it again. But how is anyone going to prevent you from using a mobile coupon over and over again? By taking your phone?

Soon, that satisfying “beep” you hear when your coupons are scanned at the register, could also automatically mark your mobile coupon as being used, so you can’t share it or use it again.

The idea is described in a newly-published patent application by the financial services company Comenity. “Listening Application on a Mobile Device to Limit Multiple Redemptions of an Offer” would do exactly as its title describes – when scanning a mobile coupon, your mobile device will listen out for a beep or other sound indicating that the coupon has been scanned, so it can’t be scanned again.

When an offer “is provided digitally, it can be very difficult to ensure the offer is only redeemed once since the digital offer can be forwarded, shared, redeemed by a user and then kept for a second redemption,” the patent application explains. A retailer can always create personalized coupons with unique codes, but “this can be expensive and can require significant upgrades to present point-of-sale technology,” the documentation goes on. And “without the unique code on each offer, a user could redeem the same offer at a different store, at the same store during a different checkout, digitally share the offer with a friend or friends, and the like.”

So Comenity describes a way to solve this problem, using technology that’s already available in your phone.

When you scan a coupon, Comenity’s system would have your phone listen out for the telltale “beep” at the checkout. “When the listening application hears a scanner sound,” the application reads, the system will compare it to a database of various register sounds. If it finds a match, “the coupon is validated and expired” on the spot.


The system would require you to opt in, and you’d have to access your coupon via a specific app that contains the listening functionality, but otherwise it’s pretty straightforward.

But what if the “beep” your phone hears is from the customer in front of you in line? What if your phone hears a similar sound at home, from the TV or radio? Does that mean the coupon you never had a chance to redeem is already marked as used and expired?

Thankfully, the patent application describes some workarounds. To prevent accidental validation, “the user could be asked to perform a confirmation task, such as to hold down a button, which activates the listening component of the application and displays the barcode.” Or “the location of the mobile device could be cross-referenced via the GPS coordinates to ensure the person is in a store before activating the sound component.”

Your phone could also confirm your location by listening out for sounds other than scanner beeps. If it hears “ambient sounds such as crowd noise, background noise, a music track, traffic noise, and the like,” it may assume you’re in a store and planning to use your coupon. “If no significant ambient sound is heard,” the patent application reads, the system will assume you are in “a location that is likely not a retail store” and your coupon will not react to any scanner sounds it might hear.

Finally, there’s the part where you’re asked to give up a bit of your privacy for the privilege of using these coupons. You didn’t really think some newfangled shopping app was going to let you use it without tracking you, did you?

While listening for the beep as you scan your coupon, your phone will also make note of “aspects such as time, date, location, and the like” which will “provide a complete record of the offer redemption”. Your phone could also surreptitiously be listening throughout your shopping trip, making note of ambient sound such as crowd noise to help determine what times of day the store is particularly busy. “The store metric information would be useful in determining peak and lull traffic times at the store, adjust employee staffing based on the peak traffic times, etc.” the patent documentation notes.

So in order to make redeeming your coupons a little more convenient, this solution makes it just a little more complex. And if it’s all just too complicated for you, you could always put your phone away and stick with paper coupons instead – because at least your paper coupons can’t eavesdrop on you.

Image source: Koupon Media

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