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Social Couponing - A Blueprint
With as big as coupons and “couponing” have become, I am surprised that there has not been a major player to push a social couponing network.enabled by smartphones. Imagine if you could whip out your smartphone, have the cashier scan the screen, save money, and have your social profile update in real-time where you shopped and what coupons you used to save.
Groupon is the biggest company to enter the coupon game, but it is clear that their business model is not one that can succeed. What do they produce? Nothing. What do they offer? A small variety of coupons for things people don’t need. Take a look at some of their bigger markets like Chicago. For a city that large, there isn’t much I’d want to spend money on.
The main reason that this revolution has not happened is that it would be a major undertaking. We would essentially take an entire industry that is mostly paper based and newspaper focused, and put it online. This would likely require a few years to accomplish, and a great deal of competition from the retail industry.
Despite the challenges, it’s time to take paper coupons digital and make them social.
Why This Could Work
Couponing is becoming more mainstream, as evidenced by the growing popularity of online coupon sites, and even television shows based on extreme couponing (profiling those coupon ninjas who manage to get 20 rolls of toilet paper for a penny, or 25 toothbrushes for a quarter each).
This effort would take discount shopping from a solitary, and sometimes tight-lipped acitvity and turn it into something fun to share with your friends.
Picture yourself about to leave your house. You check in on your social couponing app and see that your best friend just saved $15 on groceries at Safeway. You dig a little deeper and easily access a list of the coupons they used, and add them to your coupon queue. You scan the profiles of some other people who choose to publicly share their coupons as well, and pick and choose a few of their coupons to add to your queue.
Before you even leave your house you know that you will save over $20 on your purchase. And you did it all without leafing through a Sunday newspaper with scissors in hand. No need to bring that weird coupon holder you got for Christmas - just bring your iPhone.
To make it easier, you log in to your social coupon account and simply print the list of coupons and barcodes, which will make it easier for the cashier to scan and save time. After you save your money, your status is updated with your total savings since joining, your savings on your last visit, and your status level as a coupon ninja.
What Would We Need to Get This Started?
This effort would have to start in a test market, perhaps a mid-sized city of approximately 100,000 people. Major retailers would need to be on board for a pilot program, and their coupons would need to be digitized and standardized to display on a smartphone screen that could be scanned by existing bar code technology.
The easier we can make it for retailers, the better.
In addition to manufacturers’ coupons, local stores could have the ability to create and upload their own, store specific coupons and deals. This would allow the venture to become what Foursquare never could: a way to encourage shopping and patronizing certain businesses based on loyalty and deals.
Though many companies and retailers are aggressively trying to make a strong play for the coupon crowd, what is clear is that we need an entire movement to redefine how coupons work. With so many stores, including Wal Mart, getting in on the price matching and discount matching game, this idea could result in more competition, more store and brand loyalty, less paper waste and paper cuts, and a more social and fun way to save money.
If I were to hazard a guess, there are probably a few startups or major companies tossing this idea around, and they may give up based on the sheer size of the problem. This is an opportunity to take social media and give it a new purpose, a strong benefit, and a motivation for users to interact with the product.
It is something that could be monetized down the road, as I think a lot of people would pay a penny or two for the convenience of using a coupon that saves them 50 cents or a dollar. As newspaper continue their downward slide and we move towards complete online content consumption, this is an idea that is ripe for the picking and ready for today's consumer.
While some research would need to be done to see if the younger demographic would embrace coupons if they were extremely simple and socially acceptable to use, it does provide a good opportunity to test this.
Who knows...maybe your grandma would buy an iPhone if she saw how many coupons she could "clip" without any effort.
About the author: John is the founder of MarriedWithDebt.com, a personal finance and lifestyle design blog geared towards helping younger married couples get out of debt and build the life they want...together.
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