Supermarkets hold the key to coupon resurrection

There was a time when any self-respecting housewife wouldn’t dream of going shopping without a bundle of coupons. But much like the term ‘housewife’, the market has changed.

In 2001, 6.1 billion coupons were distributed in the UK. That figure has dropped to 3.7 billion. This is partly attributed to better targeting, but also the fact that many brand-owners have had their fingers burned by misredemption.

Yet there are signs the coupon industry is starting to pick up. In the past year, coupon distribution levels have increased and the use of loyalty card promotions and viral discount emails are widespread.

The jury is still out over whether last year’s Threshers campaign was a success, but the most conclusive piece of evidence is that Threshers has rerun the campaign this year.

Many brands have been put off by the thought of a campaign spiraling beyond all forecasted distribution levels and being landed with an extortionate promotional liability. Gap is the latest company to be hit by scandal after it was revealed fake vouchers are being circulated.

Last week’s Valassis ‘Scanning Ahead’ conference saw suppliers attempting to ease clients’ fears over the common pitfalls of coupon campaigns.

Oliver Felstead, European general manager of Couponstar, says: “There are a lot of misconceptions about what coupons do.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly Felstead is at pains to promote the fact that his online printable coupon technology can provide a solution by allowing clients to cap the number of coupons downloaded.

The conference revealed that the biggest barrier holding back innovations is the cooperation of the big retailers. David Tymm, chief executive at i-movo, explains how mobile vouchers add convenience for the consumer. He says: “The text message is both the medium and the currency. There is no other medium that can be used like that.”

But i-movo technology has currently only penetrated the independent newsagent’s PayPoint network, and the huge capital expenditure is deterring supermarkets from investing in Epos technology to accommodate mobile vouchers.

Felstead says: “Because of the structure of the sector, there is a tendency for everything to be pushed down retailers’ loyalty card channels.”

Once again, retailers hold all the power, with manufacturers wholly reliant on them to accept coupons. If the big supermarkets won’t play ball, any revival in the coupon market could be short-lived.

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