Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Imminent Demise of Paper Coupons

Coupons. We all know they can save us some money if we would just take the time to find the right ones and then remember them when we need them. But how many of us actually use coupons regularly? Sure, I’ll use a coupon when it’s convenient, but I am no Sunday coupon clipper. That’s just the problem. Coupons are a hassle.

A Dying Legacy

Over the past decade, the number of coupons distributed has been essentially flat, while actual redemptions of coupons have steadily declined. This is no surprise considering that 90% of coupons are distributed as inserts in newspapers, according to CouponInfoNow.com (free subscription required). And we all know how well newspapers have been doing lately.

A Better Medium

As I already mentioned, one of the main reasons why paper coupons are dying is that their main distribution channel, newspapers, is also dying. But there’s a better way to distribute and use coupons — cell phones. More than 84 percent of people in the US have a cell phone (CTIA), and there’s a pretty good chance you are carrying yours right this moment. Wouldn’t it be easier if the coupons you needed were always at your fingertips?

The idea of coupons on cell phones — let’s call them mobile coupons — isn’t new. Companies like CellFire, XtraCoupons, and many (probably dozens) more are already competing to be the premier coupon service for cell phones. The arena is certain to get much more crowded.

The Time Is Right

Since consumers have been shunning traditional paper coupons in recent years, conditions are perfect for a new type of coupon service to take hold. The ailing state of the economy only increases the need for a better way to use coupons. If the economic downturn reverses the trends in coupon usage — and it just may — then the opportunity for your cell phone to replace ink, paper, and an old pair of scissors is nearer than you might think.

One Final Note

There is just one more problem with paper coupons: they are made of paper. 100 million trees are cut down each year to print coupons, and we’re just going to throw away 99 percent of them. Mobile coupons are sounding better and better.

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