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Customarily, coupons are issued by manufacturers of consumer packaged goods or by retailers, to be used in retail stores as a part of sales promotions. They are often widely distributed through mail, coupon envelopes, magazines, newspapers, the Internet (social media, email newsletter), directly from the retailer, and mobile devices such as cell phones. Since only price conscious consumers are likely to spend the time to claim the savings, coupons function as a form of price discrimination, enabling retailers to offer a lower price only to those consumers who would otherwise go elsewhere. In addition, coupons can also be targeted selectively to regional markets in which price competition is great.
In government, a coupon is a paper certificate used to administer a benefit or permission.
Customers may get these coupons from various sources, including national newspapers and the Internet, with web sites offering free printable grocery coupons can be printed at home and use them at retail store. Some major grocery chains also produce digital coupons that may be loaded onto the retailer’s loyalty card at home, or at a coupon dispensing machine located in store. In 2011, the top five vehicles for distributing consumer packaged goods coupons in the U.S. were: the Free Standing Insert, a coupon booklet distributed through newspapers and other sources (89.4%); in-store distribution (4.2.%); direct mail (2.3%); magazines (1.5%); and coupons distributed on or in product packaging (1.3%). Other distribution methods together accounted for less than 2% of all coupons distributed. There are coupon-providing websites that provide customers with coupons of various stores. These sites accumulate coupons from various sources.
Clipping coupons from newspapers has been the most popular way to obtain coupons, though Internet and Mobile Phone coupons are gaining wide popularity.
Some retailers and companies use verification methods such as unique barcodes, coupon ID numbers, holographic seals, and watermarked paper as protection from unauthorized copying or use.
Other than newspaper, there are also coupon book publishers and retailers who compile vouchers and coupons into books, either for sale or free.
Online retailers often refer to coupons as “coupon codes”, “promotional codes”, “promotion codes”, “discount codes”, “keycodes”, “promo codes”, “surplus codes”, “portable codes”, “shopping codes”, “voucher codes”, “reward codes”, “discount vouchers”, “referral codes” or “source codes”. Internet coupons typically provide reduced cost or free shipping, a specific dollar, percentage discount or to earn cashback while some offer to encourage consumers to purchase specific products or to purchase from specific retailers. Because paper coupons would be difficult to distribute and redeem, typically secret words or codes are distributed for consumers to type in at checkout. Marketers can use different codes for different channels or groups in order to differentiate response rates.
A mobile coupon is an electronic ticket solicited and or delivered to a mobile phone that can be exchanged for financial discount or rebate when purchasing product or service. Coupons are usually issued by manufacturers of consumer packaged goods or retailers, to be used in retail stores as part of a sales promotion. They are often distributed through WAP Push over SMS or MMS, through GEO Fencing technology or other mobile means. The customer redeems the coupon at store or online. In some cases, customers may redeem the mobile coupon at the point of sale. Some retailers may choose to forward the redemption to a clearinghouse for final processing.
What is unique about mobile coupons is the memory of information in the coupons often outlast the expiration dates of the coupons themselves, triggering actual purchases at later dates. Researchers suspect it is driven by the engagement generated by the mobile device.
Mobile coupons are popular among U.S. fast-food customers. The primary success factors for the SMS campaigns are discount size, how the discount value is framed (as a gift or percent off) and the timing of the campaign.
Many retailers support the redemption of email and paper coupons via mobile devices. In addition to distributing such offers via their own email lists, SMS subscriptions, and apps, they are also often made available through coupon applications.