Aficionados of “Mad Men” will remember Don Draper telling a skeptical department store owner in an early episode: “Ms. Mencken, coupons work. I think your father would agree with this strategy.”
And her grandchildren would probably agree, too.
Challenging as couponing may be to margins, the promotional format remains as alluring to customers now as it ever was. In a new study of consumer attitudes toward coupons and their impact, Forrester (on behalf of RetailMeNot) discovered that 59% of consumers said that among retail promotional offers, coupons have the most influence over their purchase decision. In fact, coupons beat out straightforward sales (28%) by a wide margin. And overall, companies that use the tactic seem to gain the gratitude of their customers. Sixty-eight percent of consumers felt that coupons positively impact their loyalty to a brand and the likelihood of sharing a promotion with friends.
Mobile couponing remains a platform that is as undoubtedly attractive as it is problematic. The readiness of retailers to accept the smartphone thrust in their face with a discount offer is uneven at best. The coupons themselves are often poorly formatted for easy checkout redemption. Many of the shopper and couponing apps are aggregating offers they find online in all manner of sizes and formats. It is tough enough to read the fine print of a print coupon to discover whether it really applies in a given case. On a phone it is nigh impossible. In the last year I have probably had as many mobile coupons from shopping apps turned down at the register because of some inclusion or exclusion I just didn’t see because of the sheer scale of mobile coupons.
But its use is on the rise. Compared to a similar study that Forrester did in 2011, mobile coupon use has doubled from 3 to 4 purchases a year to 6 to 7. Almost half (47%) of respondents say they are likely to try a new brand if they receive coupons for it on their smartphone. More than a third (36%) are likely to switch brands as a result.
Despite the rise of shopping and coupon apps, the greatest source for finding digital coupons remains email from retailers among 71% of respondents on their computer and 59% on tablets, which are becoming an important platform for seeking deals. And because the tablet has always been an effective shopping tool that leads to higher conversions, many people are redeeming coupons on their mid-sized screens. On smartphones, consumers are finding coupons most often in retailer emails (57%) or via search (55%). And even as apps dominate mobile time spent, sending a text to a retail shortcode to get a coupon link (39%) is still used more often than browsing a shopping app for offers (33%) or a retailer app (30%).
Retailers and most shopping and coupon apps are still lagging behind some of the emerging behaviors that consumers devise across their many screens. As Forrester finds, people are finding new and unexpected ways of sending coupons to themselves from one screen to another so they can be more easily redeemed. Many apps and sites are still struggling to make this process seamless.
And to be sure, the experience at checkout is a mess. There are a lot of things not addressed by the Forrester report that any consumer will recognize as a hurdle to using more m-coupons. Without some standard and highly legible format for mobile, coupons put the customer or store clerk in the awkward position of having to pinch and zoom. Then there is the etiquette of whether the cashier should even be handling your phone. I have been at checkouts where cashiers were following rules not to touch my phone, which I think is good manners. I have been in others where the befuddled clerk starts walking around with my phone in her hand to ask managers what to do with this coupon, oblivious to the reality of her having absconded with my most intimate gadget that also cost hundreds of dollars to replace. I have had cashiers scold and warn me off using the third-party coupon app I present them with. I have seen managers drag out phone-book sized binders of company rules and recent internal bulletins to find instructions for how to process a mobile coupon. I think many consumers are still a bit reticent to bring mobile coupons to checkout if only because you just don’t know what you are going to get.
As consumer sentiment in the Forrester/RetailMeNot report suggests, mobility can and will help brands enhance their promotions via coupons and likely deepen relationships with the brands. It is not just a matter of consumer acceptance. It has to do with consistent in-store policies for handling devices. It is about more standard and responsive coupon designs that stop using print as the template.
Using a mobile coupon shouldn’t feel as if you are putting something over on the cashier.