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If you plan your shopping trip before you leave home, you have the option of using paper coupons, digital coupons, or a combination of both. But once you’re in the store, if a brand wants to tempt you to buy, it’s pretty much limited to paper tearpads on the shelf or blinkie machines that spit out paper coupons. Offering a true digital alternative to paper in-store coupons has, so far, proven to be elusive.

But now, two coupon companies are collaborating on an alternative that could finally bring paperless in-store coupons to tens of thousands of stores across the country.

Neptune Retail Solutions (NRS) and RevTrax have joined forces to offer a digital in-store solution that they say “bridges the gap between the digital and in-store shopping experience in a way never before possible until now.”

NRS owns SmartSource, which is the exclusive provider of in-store paper coupons for more than 47,000 retail locations. RevTrax is a promotions marketing platform that offers coupons in various digital forms, including its new Universal Mobile Offer – a digital coupon that, unlike load-to-card coupons, is designed to be used nearly anywhere you shop and not just at one specific retailer.

The companies’ partnership means NRS will be able to leverage RevTrax’s technology to bring universal mobile offers to any and all stores that currently offer SmartSource paper coupons.

The digital offers are expected to start showing up in stores in the coming months, in the form of shelf signs or other in-store displays featuring QR codes. Pull out your phone, scan the code, and a unique mobile coupon will be delivered straight to your phone, with a bar code that can be scanned when you check out.

Digital in-store coupons have been a long time in coming. One of the first implementations was launched some eight years ago, by a now-defunct company called VisibleBrands. Its idea involved on-shelf touchscreens that communicated with a radio frequency receiver on your shopping cart – if you clicked a coupon offer on the touchscreen, it would become associated with your shopping cart and the discount would be applied when you checked out. But that concept required a lot of in-store hardware and never caught on.

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Fast forward to a couple of years ago, and Kroger introduced what it called the “grocery store of the future,” featuring in-store signage with QR codes inviting you to download digital coupons. But the QR code merely took you to the Kroger app, where you’d have to find the digital coupon and load it to your account just like any other load-to-card coupon.

The NRS-RevTrax partnership aims to do what those solutions didn’t, by offering actual product-specific, personalized mobile coupons delivered directly to your phone, with no additional hardware required for the store, and no additional hoops to jump through for you.

“With our new partnership with RevTrax, we will be able to provide our client partners with a unique ability to efficiently and effectively customize digital incentives on an individual level within the store environment,” NRS CEO Bill Redmond said in a statement. “We are truly excited to be commercializing this innovation immediately for an industry that has been hungry for true digital transformation.”

Most of RevTrax’s Universal Mobile Offers right now are technically product-specific payments, like mobile gift cards that can only be redeemed on specific products. An offer is delivered to your phone, you can choose to redeem it in store or online, and you can scan it from your phone or save it to a mobile wallet – so to the consumer, it looks and acts like a mobile coupon even though it’s technically not. But RevTrax is also working to bring The Coupon Bureau’s mobile manufacturer’s coupons onto its platform, once more retailers are ready to accept them.

So scanning QR codes for mobile gift cards is something of a workaround until true in-store mobile coupon offers are ready for prime time – but for now, it’s a workaround that works. “The partnership announced today is truly transformative and represents a giant leap forward,” RevTrax CEO Jonathan Treiber said. In the future, he told Coupons in the News, QR codes may be supplemented or replaced by near-field communication technology that can beam a coupon directly to your phone without you having to scan anything at all. And once the universal digital manufacturer’s coupons currently being piloted by The Coupon Bureau are fully up and running, they may supplement or replace the current product-specific payment option that RevTrax currently offers.

But joining forces with NRS now, to get a true digital alternative to in-store paper coupons available right away, speaks to “our pioneering spirit and impatience to innovate,” Treiber said, as the industry awaits the day when true universal digital coupons “gain universal retail acceptance.”

So the next time you’re strolling down the grocery aisle and see that telltale little red light blinking on the shelf edge, there may be something new there. Instead of waiting for a machine to spit out a paper coupon, or waiting in vain if a previous shopper managed to empty it out – saving money could be as easy as just pulling out your phone.

Image sources: Neptune Retail Services / RevTrax / Nathália Rosa on Unsplash

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