Tom Thumb and Randall's -- both owned by Safeway -- are currently cooperating with packaged-goods manufacturers General Mills, Unilever and Kimberly-Clark to offer shoppers 21 coupons for goods like pre-packaged tossed salad and children's cereal.
Shoppers who have a loyalty card can view and select the digital coupons they want by visiting the store's Web site on their computer or mobile device. The selected coupons are registered on their loyalty account, and automatically deducted when the cashier swipes their loyalty card.
The infrastructure for the system was created by Cellfire, a company specializing in mobile coupon distribution; it also handles operations and other technical issues.
Over the last couple of years, Cellfire has scored other big supermarket accounts. In March 2008, various packaged-goods companies teamed up with Kroger to roll out a system for distributing electronic coupons to mobile devices.
Using the same basic Cellfire technology, the coupon service targeted 25- to-34-year-olds with coupons for home and baby-care products from Clorox, Del Monte, General Mills, Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble.
Also in 2008, ShopRite began testing a customer loyalty program in partnership with MediaCart Holdings and Microsoft. While not quite a "coupon" promotion, Microsoft tracked individual purchases and delivered discounts via MediaCart, which installs small computers with digital displays in shopping carts.
Typically, loyalty programs identify shoppers through numbers only, guaranteeing a degree of anonymity. By tracking purchases, the coupon services also provide a wealth of information to stores and marketers about the individual consumer's needs and preferences. All these systems could potentially make Internet advertising more efficient, by allowing marketers to compare online ad exposure with later purchase patterns.