2011: Year of the eCoupon?

If Google’s failed bid to buy Groupon did anything, it brought a whole lot of attention to a concept you might call “social couponing.” Not that Groupon needed the publicity, it was already on track to be what some analysts say is the fastest growing business in history.

Groupon’s “shtick” is offering a deal of the day from a local business, and users are encouraged to pass along the deal and broadcast it via social networks. The online deal-a-day model became particularly popular in 2010 as consumers continued to be stingy with their money. Also popular with online retailers were eCoupons of every kind – discounts, 2-for-1s, free shipping, etc., especially during the holiday shopping season.

Is 2011 the year of the eCoupon for traditional retailers?

Well here’s an interesting statistic, courtesy of Steven R. Boal, CEO of Coupons.com. He tells The New York Times that more than three billion coupons a year are redeemed in the U.S., and in 2009 almost 10 percent of all coupons redeemed were distributed online. That percentage was a mere one percent in 2006.

What that means is that Groupon isn’t the only game in town:

  • WhaleSharkMedia has been snapping up coupon sites including affiliate and coupon site RetailMeNot for around $90 million.
  • NextJump, who offers coupons through private rewards programs for 84 percent of the Fortune 100, including the newly launched MasterCard Marketplace.
  • Then there is the small matter of the trump card Facebook dealt in the war over Local called Deals.

Still, today’s digital coupons are nothing more than an electronic version of those inserted into newspapers. You still have to print them off, cut them out, and bring them into a store.

The real excitement surrounding coupons these days, however, is making them all digital. Right now, online coupon sites have the ability to link a digital coupon to a shopper reward card so a consumer can go to a particular supermarket, buy a specific product, and use the eCoupon during check-out. That’s still a hassle, though, the consumer has to remember which coupon she requested to be attached to which loyalty program.

Smart phones are the key to convenience, offline tracking, and mass adoption

An even better solution, of course, is using a smartphone as the primary coupon delivery device. That turns coupon clipping into “coupon clicking,” truly bringing the coupon into the digital age. Given the growing popularity of more sophisticated smartphones, it may be only a matter of time before the eCoupon enjoys mass adoption.

The year 2011 could see the introduction of eCoupon technology that goes one step further, combining the digital coupon with pinpointing the consumer’s location. Smartphones can already deliver store-specific coupons to shoppers who indicate their location; but at least one company, Point Inside, is working on technology that can tell specifically where a shopper is standing in a store, according to The New York Times. That way, “manufacturers could make coupon offers on the spot, as you stood in the aisle, within sight of the promoted product.” Point Inside will use geotagging to locate shoppers, which will become easier as newer smartphones are introduced into the marketplace.

I’ve already written about the increasing use of QR codes, which allows mobile users to connect to web pages by pointing their phones at a barcode-like graphic image that could appear anywhere – in a magazine, on a billboard, or even on a TV screen. eCoupons could be an even bigger boon to marketers, if companies like Point Inside can fulfill the digital dream of delivering a location-based deal to the shopper’s phone.

I don’t know if 2011 will end up being the year of the all-digital eCoupon – but it will be a year when we will undoubtedly see more bricks-and-mortar retailers offering deals driven by online technology.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

4 Responses to 2011: Year of the eCoupon?

  1. Pat Grady says:

    conversion proximity distortion, a "virtual" value multiplier, via colorblind spreadsheeters. it's like watching the exploding stock value of the company that makes those orange foam goal-line markers.

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