Coupons are experiencing a renaissance. Shoppers are on
the prowl for savings, and merchants are responding online.
Electronic coupons have the capability to deliver significant
savings to consumers when, where and in the format they
need them — including the Web, e-mail or any mobile device.
The amount of Internet print-at-home coupon distribution is
climbing; up 41 percent from last year according to Nielson
Clearinghouse, and comparable to the number of offers in a
Sunday newspaper. “In 2009, consumers printed $313 million
in savings from Coupons.com,” explains Patrick Crisp,
senior director of communications for Coupons.com.
Coupons by the Numbers
Traditional grocery items and packaged goods have represented
the majority of online coupons. But today, retailers,
restaurants, car rental and entertainment providers, among
others, are battling for the consumer’s tightly held wallet.
Simmons Market Research Bureau claims that more than 40
million people in the U.S. use online coupons to generate
substantial savings and the number of shoppers who adopt
online coupons will multiply. Also according to Simmons:
• Today’s e-coupon users skew to a younger, wealthier
crowd with larger households that appear less likely to
subscribe to the traditional, print newspaper and clip
• Factors impacting the growth of Internet print-at-home
coupons include the convenience of browsing on a
twenty-four-hour, year-round basis, the increase of users
with Internet access, and the decline of newspapers.
According to the Harris Interactive Poll 2009, coupons
are the deciding factor in the purchases of a growing number
• At 41 percent, the 35-44 age group is the largest segment
to use handheld devices or websites to find deals when
• Nearly one-third of households with children use coupon
• Thirty percent of adults will not purchase from an online
store without a coupon, a 27 percent jump from 2008.
When an online coupon is not available, 22 percent of
adults will go to a different store to make the purchase,
while eight percent will wait until a coupon is available
to make the purchase.
Bonus: Check Out the Web's Most Popular Coupon Sites
To attract new shoppers, retain existing customers and increase
average sales, a wide range of suppliers including
Kroger, Safeway, CVS, Walgreens, K-mart, HEB, Duane
Reade and other intermediaries are leveraging online coupon
programs and recording double-digit results, claims Crisp.
On the marketing side, two practices are evident regarding
coupon usage: Brands new to online coupon programs are
using them strategically to increase sales, while brands
acclimated to online coupon programs are increasing the
amount of unique coupons and allowable prints. “We’ve
been very pleased with the success of our digital coupon
campaigns and have been steadily moving more and more of
our couponing budget out of the newspaper and onto digital
delivery,” says Karl Schmidt, director of promotion marketing
at General Mills.
Companies recognize that online coupons provide a
lower barrier to entry and higher return over traditional
newspaper coupon inserts. Consequently, some companies
are transitioning their entire coupon budget to online distribution
and eliminating print coupons completely.
“To determine the most effective channel for online coupons,
marketers are measuring the methods of discovery: e-mail,
mobile, Web, and search,” claims John Morgan, executive director
for the Association of Coupon Professionals. According
to the 2008 Online Coupon Survey conducted by
Coupons Inc. & Simmons Market Research Bureau, the majority
of online coupon users will access all channels to get
money saving coupons. But when merchants request personal
information prior to accessing the savings, the coupon
value influences the consumer’s willingness to participate.
By tracking and analyzing online activity, the Web enables
marketers to develop engaging, long-term relationships with
each consumer, states Kelly O’Neill, product marketing director
at ATG. This information gives marketers the ability to personalize
coupons based on consumer segments, refine offers
based on the results of a coupon campaign, expand offers to
include a “friends and family” element, and recommend products
based on past purchase behaviors. “For example, personalization
capabilities allow merchants to tie a coupon directly
to brands and products most relevant to each individual or segment.
And, prioritization allows discounts to be applied in the
appropriate order; such as discounts before free shipping at certain
spending levels. There are definitely benefits to offering
discount features across all marketing channels,” says O’Neill.
For example, CVS has been a leader in the personalized coupon
space. The CVS Extra Care program ties coupons to their Extra
Care cards, permitting consumers to e-mail and print redeemable,
in-store coupons. The CVS website incorporates
shopping lists, coupons, shared loyalty programs, prescriptions
and product information to complement the program nicely,
Speedy check-outs, customer safety, consumer abuse and
fraudulent behavior create the majority of obstacles for
merchants offering online coupons. Retailers are constantly
evaluating check-out processes, eliminating anything
that jeopardizes a fast purchase. For example, handing a
mobile device to a busy cashier for redemption purposes
slows check-out lines, adds Crisp. Therefore, using handhelds
for high-volume transactions is likely three to five
To provide customers with a safe, hassle-free online experience,
Coupons.com provides secure digital coupons.
And to protect retailers and manufacturers, advanced technological
controls limit allowable prints on the Web.
E-mail providers such as TailoredMail and Exact Target
offer solutions to help control coupon prints for e-mail
use, too. Merchants should also develop an online coupon
policy to reduce risks that include limiting redemption
levels per user, per visit and per order. The Internet
Coupon Task Force, created by the Association of Coupon
Professionals, developed guidelines to educate retailers and
manufacturers on Internet print-at-home coupons, according
Furthermore, O’Neill reminds merchants that consumers
re-selling online coupons through Web outlets such as eBay
and craigslist pose additional threats. Allocating resources to
police such sites is costly and generally only justified for
coupons of significant value.
Of course, there is always the concern of losing revenue
to coupons. However, coupon costs can often be offset with
vendor negotiations and expanding partnership efforts between
manufacturers and key retailers.
“There is a wealth of shopping options available to consumers,
and an online coupon is a call-to-action,” explains
Morgan. “Digital coupons can influence purchase decisions
to move product off the shelf for instant savings and help
drive customer loyalty.” Research shows that coupons are
dramatically increasing effectiveness of online marketing
campaigns, including websites, e-mail, mobile and social networking
In October, Coupons.com introduced three new ways to
save: The Save to Card program allows users to load digital
coupons directly onto supermarket loyalty cards. Next, the
Show & Save initiative enables shoppers to load e-coupons
on mobile phones and then show the device to the merchant.
Last, Grocery iQ is an iPhone and iPod application that permits
barcode scanning and integration of coupons to create
and manage grocery lists.
Many retailers provide coupon galleries on their websites
and gladly accept printed online coupons. When starting an
online coupon program, following best practices can yield
better results, ensure proper security and distribution controls,
eliminate costly mistakes and avoid losing control of
coupons that unintentionally go viral.
About the Author: Michelle M. Wicmandy is the director of marketing for Southeast
Media, a marketing communications firm, and specializes
in mobile and e-mail marketing.