Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"From Clipouts to the Web, Coupons Transition Slowly"

Article in the New York Times (free registration required).

Having headed up online marketing at a coupon-oriented site myself for a long time, I can vouch first-hand for the interest that people have in coupons online. Certain folks (e.g., women, early middle age, middle income, B-C-D counties especially) love the idea of printing coupons from a website and then going to the store and redeeming them, thus saving many dollars on each grocery trip. That's the vision people generally have when they click through the banners touting "baby coupons", "grocery coupons", "pet coupons", etc.

As you might expect, the reality is pretty different. While the coupon selection today looks remarkably better than when I worked there, it's still not nearly as comprehensive as Valassis inserts in your Sunday paper, and major CPGs like P&G, Kraft and ConAgra are still noticeably missing from the site (although Quaker Oats is there).

The printable coupons are the major lure this website uses to bringing in registrants for the primary purpose of sending them email offers for lead generation clients, where probably two-thirds to three-fourths of the lifetime revenue on each member comes from. It's not that they're luring people under false pretenses -- they do deliver on the coupon promise better than at any time I've seen, and they don't use tactics that are any more underhanded than pre-checking lead gen offers and forcing you to uncheck each one to opt out. And they do make offers visible to pre-registrants, whereas before all offers were kept behind the wall and you had to sign up to see them. But the vision people have when they register and the reality is substantially different.

One interesting stat that jumped out at me: only 12% of all 175 million Internet users are interested in coupons, according to Comscore. Does this include the online savings you can get at places like Coupon Mountain? I love sites like those because it's essentially free money whenever you buy something online, and 80% of the things I buy online do have some coupon or coupon code available to use for the purchase. My tip to you: before buying anything, open another browser tab, go to your favorite search engine, and search "(product you're buying) coupons". Unless you know of a more effective way? Please share!

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