Do Bloggers Offer CPG Insights or Aggravation? 
 
By Dan Alaimo

Coupon blogs on the Internet have become a must-read for many consumers who often consult them before making a shopping list. But coupon blogs are a mixed bag when it comes to assessing their value to manufacturers and retailers. Some are highly regarded by the industry. These bloggers are often invited to speak at trade events and they even conduct couponing seminars for consumers.

On the other hand, some other coupon blogs are reviled. These postings have been known to advocate coupon practices that are either prohibited by the issuers, or even technically illegal.

But whether coupon blogs are good or bad, one thing is for sure: they are here to stay because many serious grocery shoppers read them and often follow their advice. So what does the traditional coupon industry think about these blogs?

“The good sites educate the consumer on the proper way to take advantage of savings with coupons,” says Ron Fischer, president, Redemption Processing Representatives. “The bad sites still make consumers aware of coupons and cause CPGs to review their policies and controls.”

Bud Miller, executive director, Coupon Information Center, says, “Coupon bloggers have been around for years and some of them have been very helpful, especially in alerting their readers about counterfeit coupons and other coupon related scams. Most bloggers are responsible and want to help their readers find great deals, which is fine, as long as they follow the rules,” adds Miller, whose firm recently published consumer guidelines on “Considerate Couponing.”

While retailers and manufacturers are reexamining their redemption policies, coupon officials say trading partners have come to regard coupon bloggers as front-line communicators in combating excesses. These writers have their fingers on the pulse of the coupon business, and can provide grass roots coupon marketing insights that can’t be found elsewhere.

"I've been pleased to see several high profile bloggers take that seriously and encourage their readers to ‘ethically’ use coupons -- that is, to not buy coupons, to fight counterfeiting, to not unnecessarily hoard products, and to abide by retailer and manufacturer coupon policies," says  Bob Carter, president of Inmar's Promotion Services division. "Unfortunately, not all bloggers do this, but those that do should be supported by the industry so that they can have an even stronger following among shoppers."

Charlie Brown, vice president, marketing, NCH Marketing, says,  “I see a lot of positive social media influence in this area, where there seems to be a ground swell of activism among bloggers insisting that would-be cheaters don't ruin it for everyone. That's great publicity to deter consumer misuse or mal-redemption, or even potentially fraud as it makes it clear that many people are watching what is going on.”

The good part of so many coupon bloggers is “the explosion of positive sharing on beauty tips, dining deals and ways to maximize their tight budgets. The bad parts are related to the downside of consumers abusing and taking advantage of the system,” notes Curtis Tingle, senior vice president, strategic demand and development, Valassis,  the parent company of NCH.

CPGmatters asked prominent bloggers how — based on their experience — manufacturers could improve couponing. Their suggestions, for the most part, were specific and constructive.

Jill Cataldo, a blogger at SuperCouponing and a prominent speaker respected within the industry, says, “We are driving a lot of sales. Every week, I receive requests from CPG manufacturers to post about new products, offer product or coupon giveaways, or ask if I will help co-promote their products.”

She offers some advice to manufacturers:
  • Don’t require as many multiple item purchases to get the coupon discount. “Consumers want to use coupons, but for shoppers who don’t want to buy multiples, these coupons are a turn-off.”
  • Make any restrictions on a coupon legible and clear. “I am fastidious about following the rules and using coupons ethically and correctly, but I've seen a few coupons of late that had me questioning what I saw.”
  • Limit multiple coupon purchases to four of the same item. “Four is a reasonable number for most households to purchase in a single trip,” says Cataldo, who has been critical of “Extreme Couponing,” the reality cable TV program, which depicts shoppers using hundreds of coupons at checkout.
  • Allow consumers to obtain more items with digital coupons, or print more of these coupons. “I’m not talking about crazy numbers like the ‘Extreme Couponing’ show, but I'd like to see digital coupons allow for the purchase of four items instead of one, or allow four of the same discount before it is ‘used up.’”

Consumers aren’t as enthusiastic about digital coupons as product manufacturers are, she adds. “Consumers are less excited mainly because digital coupons are ‘clunky’ at best.”

Melissa Garcia, the “coupon queen” of CouponQueen.com, works with major retailers and manufacturers to educate consumers about coupons. She urged manufacturers to work with coupon experts to come up with solutions, as well as with retailers.

Manufacturers should be very clear about what they want a coupon to be used for, she advises “Offer coupons in a variety of options: online, direct mail, on-pack, and Sunday newspapers.” Garcia also endorses the four-of-the-same-item limit, and expanding the number of items digital coupons can be used for. But she tells marketers to be aware that some consumers who depend on coupons don’t have a computer, or can’t afford the printer ink.

“Extreme Couponing” brings a strong reaction from Garcia. “Are you feeding the monster?” she asks. “Are you working with people who advocate the buying and selling of coupons, even though it states right on your coupon that it should not be bought, sold or auctioned? Stand up against TLC's ‘Extreme Couponing’. Let your retailers know you are not happy about it. If retailers stop letting them film inside the stores, they will have to figure out another way to film their show.”

Courtney Solstad, owner and author of MyCRAZYsavings.com, is a proponent of ethical couponing. “Education via blogs is the best way to encourage legitimate couponing,” she says.

While coupons are “a great way to market,” a coupon offering 40 cents off two of something that is normally $3 is not good marketing, she notes. “Hook them with high-value coupons, then move to buy-one, get-one-free, then taper down. Get them hooked on the quality of the product before shooting out smaller coupons.”

The owner of JaimeKirlewCouponing.com, J'aime Kirlew, who is affiliated with "Extreme Couponing," urges manufacturers to never stop printing coupons. “I know that digital coupons might be the future, but digital coupons limit savings.” Kirlew prefers a combination of print and digital because together they add up to sizeable savings.

“I would beg manufacturers not to go any lower with the value of coupons. A 20-cents-off coupon, even if that doubles at my store, still allows for an extraordinary cost of an item that I may not be willing to pay.” Kirlew prefers national brands, but if the cost can’t be reduced by couponing, she’d buy a store brand.


Market Watch
Cellfire Extends Network by Adding Three Grocers 

By Rose Anthony

Cellfire has expanded its digital offer network by partnering with D’Agostino, Marsh and Harps grocery stores. The addition provides digital coupons to a new geographic set of customers, including Manhattan.

The firm’s digital coupons will be accessible for all 17 D’Agostino stores in New York, 97 Marsh-affiliated stores in Indiana and Ohio, and 64 Harps stores throughout Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. 

The Cellfire network provides grocers and brands an interactive, targeted and secure solution to reach and engage customers anytime, anywhere with the device of choice.  Using a variety of touch points, retailers and brands can connect with more consumers through the web, mobile, social networks, television and in-store, influencing consumer behavior at each of three phases of the shopping experience:
  • Before consumers shop via planning and awareness
  • While they shop through location-based notifications and alerts
  • After they shop with brand loyalty programs and incentives

Cellfire aims to simplify execution and serve as one partner to implement offers uniformly across all digital experiences, providing control of content, offering in-depth reporting and reaching the largest network of grocery store websites, as well as Cellfire-powered websites and mobile applications. The company’s redemption network supports more than 5,500 grocery stores nationwide.

Earlier this year, Cellfire released an app for Windows Phone. The addition created the first grocery coupon app to support all four major mobile platforms: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. 
 
“Windows Phone is backed by a rich developer ecosystem that is creating a variety of quality apps and games, like Cellfire, that play a valuable role in extending the potential of our mobile platform to enable an even greater mobile experience,” said Todd Brix, senior director, Windows Phone Marketplace, Microsoft Corp. “Cellfire's consumer-first approach to its app, which links manufacturer coupons to a Windows Phone users grocery savings card or loyalty ID for fast, secure and paperless redemption, is a great example of the kind of rich applications that people will find on Windows Phone Marketplace to get the most out of their phone.”

Inmar to Host Promotions Forum
The 2011 Inmar Promotions Forum will take place November 2-3 at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel in Dallas, Texas.

There will be general sessions, three instructional tracks to choose from, and tours of the state-of-the-art returns facility. Several of the promotions industry’s most influential thought-leaders are scheduled to speak.

For more information, please visit www.inmar.com.

Facebook Highlights Coupon Factory
Facebook highlighted the technology behind CouponFactory.com in a “Couponing on Facebook” guide sent to advertisers interested in implementing coupons on Facebook.

The guide emphasized that consumers aren’t happy jumping through hoops in order to print a coupon. Through the CouponFactory technology, businesses can post an offer on their page, allowing customers to print the offer inside of Facebook without the need to download a Facebook app or a third-party’s print software.


OCTOBER 2011

Digital Gaining on Paper in Promotional ‘Ecosystem’

By Dan Alaimo

The promotional “ecosystem” is changing quickly. While paper coupons will continue to dominate for the near future, they will inevitably lose ground to digital delivery systems, says Bob Carter, president of the Promotional Services division of Inmar.

“Reaching consumers is going to require marketers to use a combination of paper and digital media. The paper is going to shrink; the digital is going to grow, probably over a time period of about a decade, but it is already starting to happen,” he comments.

The decline in paper coupons will occur because of the widely reported drop in newspaper subscriptions, “and I don’t see any way that is going to turn around,” he says. “So we are gradually going to come to a convergence of types of media, and we are also going to have a demographic shift from older consumers who are used to dealing with paper media to younger consumers who are never going to deal very much with paper media,” notes Carter, speaking on “Understanding the New Digital Promotions Ecosystem” at last month’s LEAD Marketing Conference in Chicago. LEAD, produced by the Shopper Technology Institute, stands for Loyalty, Engagement, Analytics and Digital.

While 71% of shoppers check the store circular in the newspaper, and 59% clip coupons from the newspaper inserts, 62% of shoppers search for deals digitally for at least half of their shopping trips, according to a GMA/Booz & Co. shopper survey from summer 2010. The use of digital has probably increased since then, Carter says. “Paper will be bigger for a while, but digital is gaining quickly. It is going to catch paper soon. Marketers have to be able to use both.”

Carter cited several other examples of digital’s importance from the survey:
  • 42% view the store circular on the retailer’s website.
  • 42% print coupons from the Internet.
  • 30% go to store websites for coupons.
  • 29% go to coupon websites for coupons.
  • 27% go to brand websites for coupons.
  • 17% view the store circular on another website.
  • 16% link coupons to their frequent shopper card.
  • 11% go to general interest websites for coupons.
  • 5% get coupons on their mobile phone.

The number of consumers getting coupons on their mobile phones has certainly grown since the 2010 survey because smartphone penetration has been on a sharp upward trajectory, Carter says. In mid 2010 it was over 30% and it is now well above 40%. By the end of this year — or early next year at the latest — it will hit 50%. “This is going to drive that trend farther. We are going to see a shift from basic Internet access to mobile Internet access over the next year,” he adds.

“Based on experience that we have in working with retailers as they enable mobile sites and work to make those sites more optimized for mobile devices, we are going to see huge growth and it will rapidly catch up with the general Internet as a media source.”

Consumer packaged goods companies are ramping up their digital efforts, according to Carter. Based on information from Inmar’s client base of 725 CPG firms, digital promotional activity rose 181% from 2009 to 2010, and another 50% from 2010 to May 31, 2011. This has resulted in increasing digital offers, which rose 105% from 2009 to 2010, and 117% from 2010 to May 31, 2011.

“The digital offers are much smaller in terms of the overall distribution, and they are generally more targeted by distribution method. They are trying to reach a certain set of consumers, or they are deals done specifically between a brand and a retailer. But their volume is growing rapidly and has surpassed the FSIs. These high growth rates are encouraging for the digital media.”

Carter pointed out that the triple-digit growth was from a small base, and that the volume of digital coupons at major grocery retailers is about 2-3% of paper coupon redemptions.

Digital has a long way to go, “but I think we are going to see a rapid ramp up over the next two to three years as more retailers become enabled to accept digital coupons,” he says.

Consumer interest in coupons and promotions has been very high since the economic downturn in 2008, he adds. In that year, there was a 27-28% increase in paper coupon redemption year-over-year, which has been sustained in subsequent years, he notes. Prior to that time, coupon redemption had been declining for 15 years, and there was a stigma to using coupons among many shoppers.

“We’ve seen a complete shift in consumer behavior and cultural acceptance of using coupons and promotions. It’s almost like a game now and people want to see how much they can save,” Carter says.

There’s even a reality show — “Extreme Couponing” — which celebrates the excesses in the culture of couponers, and has encouraged such action by other consumers, according to industry observers. Retailers have changed their policies to cope with this and to prevent out-of-stocks resulting from overzealous couponers, but experts say technologies like a new bar code and digital coupons may be a permanent solution.

Carter says the transition to digital coupons will help rein in some of the extreme couponers. “Digital done well results in more control over distribution. It would prevent somebody from coming in with 50 digital coupons, as opposed to the FSI coupons which people can get them from recycling centers and other places.”

Brands are challenged and encouraged by recent trends in coupons and promotions. “This is a very complex space with a lot of moving parts. I think we are getting a better understanding of the needs of the CPGs in the market. The winner is going to be the company or group of companies that can provide the simplest, most effective solution, and take the complexity out of the situation,” Carter concludes.


Market Watch
ShopText, AOL Shortcuts Partner to Create
Mobile-To-Loyalty Card Coupon Network

By Rose Anthony

ShopText and AOL Shortcuts have formed a strategic partnership to create the first national mobile-to-loyalty card coupon network linking traditional media advertising and digital coupon distribution to benefit consumers, brands, retailers and agencies.

Shoppers simply “clip” coupons from leading brands with a text message when they see a code in national television, print, on pack, online and mobile advertisements. Shortcuts enables secure digital coupons to be instantly loaded onto participating loyalty cards and redeemed when shoppers swipe their loyalty card at checkout. This new and easy Mobile2Card couponing will be available at over 4,000 of Shortcuts’ partner stores.

“We are excited to partner with Shortcuts. Our combined national mobile couponing solution is simple, secure and truly digital. Brands and retailers will now be able to measure traditional, social, online and mobile media response, coupon loads and redemption in real-time from one reporting dashboard,” said Steve Roberts, CEO of ShopText. “With double opt-in, brands and retailers can create a new direct-to-consumer mobile channel to drive commerce and loyalty.”

Shortcuts provides a national direct-to-card retailer network, as well as the scaled reach of the AOL Network and strong existing partnerships with manufacturers and retailers. ShopText launched mobile couponing directly to shopper cards in certain regions last year.

“Partnering with ShopText will allow us to offer consumers even more savings that are both simple and convenient,” said Tara Trocki, general manager of Shortcuts. “We provide a true one-stop shop for manufacturers and retailers interested in enhancing the impact of traditional, online and mobile media campaigns with a proven driver of store traffic, direct-to–card coupons.”

Coupon 101/102 Scheduled
The Association of Coupon Professionals (ACP) will present its well-known Coupons 101/102 educational workshop Oct. 13 at the Doubletree Hotel in Rosemont, Ill (Chicago).

Attendees will learn how to market their business with this time-tested tool as they refresh their knowledge of coupons or bring themselves up to speed on new technologies. Digital, Internet Print-at-Home and traditional paper coupons will be discussed. Technologies and Click-to-Card (frequent shopper  card) coupons will be explored, along with topics such as the GS1 Databar and the new UPC coding system.

For more information, contact, John Morgan, executive director of ACP, at 610-789-9993 or
John.Morgan@acp-hq.org.

‘Digital Moms’ Dig Coupons
Coupons and deals drive purchase among “Digital Moms,” says a new study from Forrester Research that focused on the online behaviors and shopping patterns of today’s technology-driven mothers. 

Digital Moms were more eager to sing up for free products or online coupons (53%) than non-Moms (43%).
The former are “very price sensitive and they love coupons,” said Reineke Reitsma, VP-Research Director of Data for Forrester Research.

COUPONS

Do Bloggers Offer CPG Insights or Aggravation?

Cellfire Extends Network by Adding Three Grocers

Digital Gaining on Paper in Promotional 'Ecosystem'

ShopText, AOL Shortcuts Partner to Create Mobile-To-Loyalty Card Coupon Network
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November 2011
               
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