If you want a discount on your burger and fries, scanning a coupon from your phone is a lot more convenient than remembering to bring a paper coupon. But who wants to hand your phone to a drive-thru employee to scan?

One company thinks it has a better way – coupons that will “talk” to the restaurant’s checkout system and be applied to your order automatically.

Cincinnati-based Lisnr offers an “ultrasonic proximity platform” that encodes data into inaudible tones that can be sent between devices. Its technology is already being used by various retailers and entertainment venues – so if it works for payments and event tickets, why not coupons?

Lisnr’s latest initiative is described in a newly-published patent application, which details a proposed system for “enabling audio transactions in physical locations such as drive-through locations.”

“Assume a user is interested in ordering food from a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant and the user has a digital coupon” offering 20% off, the patent documentation reads. Once you pull into a drive-thru and your mobile device is detected, “the 20% coupon may be modulated into an audio signal and transmitted from the mobile device to the computing device for instant and automatic processing, thereby removing the need for the user to physically provide or verbally provide the coupon to any McDonald’s attendant.”

The system could work the other way around, too. If the restaurant has a coupon available for an item you’re interested in purchasing, it can send it to your mobile device using the same audio technology.


The coronavirus pandemic increased the demand for touchless technology like “tap to pay” and scanning QR codes. But Lisnr launched long before the pandemic, and thinks there will be a demand for its solutions long after the pandemic is over. Consider a crowded stadium where you have to wait in line as ticket takers check and scan each ticket. Lisnr is working with stadiums to offer audio coupons that allow you to walk right in, as your ticket beams an audio signal to a ticket processor and validates your entry.

Lisnr isn’t the first or only company that’s attempted to use audio technology and apply it to coupons. Back in 2016, the now-defunct company Chirp described a similar system of turning coupons into sounds. “All you need is a working microphone and speaker, and you can send a coupon to anyone, anywhere,” a company executive said at the time. Other companies have experimented with embedding audio signals into radio or TV ads, in order to beam coupons directly to your phone.

Lisnr’s idea is different in that it doesn’t just involve sending coupons to you, but allows you to redeem your coupons using audio signals as well. It could even help combat coupon fraud, in that you have to have an actual coupon that’s capable of being transmitted using Lisnr’s audio system – you can’t take a screenshot of a mobile coupon, for example, and expect it to work.

And if you’ve ever been behind someone in a drive-thru line who’s fumbling with coupons and making everyone wait, Lisnr’s audio coupons could help shave precious time off the drive-thru ordering process, where every second counts.

A new report from the customer experience measurement company SeeLevel HX found that drive-thru service has been a lot slower this year. The average speed of service has gone up to nearly six and a half minutes, up nearly half a minute from last year. Inaccurate orders occur 15% of the time, up from 13% last year, and add more than a minute to the average wait time.

Coupons that don’t have to be handled or scanned could help move things along. When customers “attempt to order in the drive-thru, they’re often met with long wait times, and a less than personalized experience,” Lisnr says. “Add in the possibility of inaccurate orders and you have a customer experience they’ll want to forget.”

So if these audio coupons catch on, ordering in the drive-thru could become a much more pleasant, quick, and cost-effective experience. Then you won’t have to worry about clipping paper coupons, searching for savings or asking for discounts – just let your coupons do the talking.

Image source: McDonald’s

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