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The practice of couponing is alive and well; it even is bigger and better than traditional forms that required people to clip the paper inserts in newspapers. As Millennials, with their massive student debt and relatively low incomes, embrace the appeal of couponing, they also have redefined what it means and how it can be practiced.

Lo-res_132264709-STo start, for most young consumers, a coupon can take a variety of forms. It might still be a slip of paper promising a discount on packaged goods at the grocery store. But they also tend to lump rebates and promotions into their couponing practice. Thus when they use their loyalty card at the drugstore, purchase a piece of clothing from a flash sale site, join cash-back shopping programs, input discount codes to retail websites, or refer a friend to get a discount on a service offering, it all seems like couponing. Considering the wide range of these promotional options available, one assessment suggests that nearly 9 out of every 10 Millennials uses coupons.

The variety of options also continues to expand. For example, Valpak still sends blue envelopes to consumers’ mailboxes, and the circulation rates for these hard copy coupons has remained steady at about 39 million households. But it also offers local online and mobile search function that enables users to find businesses that are offering relevant coupons. As a result, it notes that 2 million coupons were printed from electronic links in a recent year.

The notion that customers would need to print physical copies of coupons or continue to use the versions published in newspapers may seem anachronistic in the modern Internet and mobile era. But thus far, digital coupons have remained diverse and uncoordinated, failing to offer a “seamless experience.” It quickly becomes confusing to determine which app to download or which box to click to receive the coupon discount when each retailer has a different process. Therefore, customers looking to ensure that they get their dollars off print out a hard copy that they can present wherever they choose to shop.

In this environment, one app claims that it can address the confusion and still enable young users to avoid extra pieces of paper. Ibotta is a rebate app on which users upload their receipts to demonstrate that they have purchased a particular item or visited a certain store. They then receive refunds of the promised discount; users report an average of $10–$12 in savings each month.

In addition to appealing to consumers by putting the entire process in one place, Ibotta promises some notable benefits to the brands that offer coupons. In particular, they only pay for discounts that get redeemed. Rather than providing money upfront, the companies know that each discount represents an actual sale of their product. Furthermore, Ibotta helps its client companies collect extensive, aggregated data about who is buying, when, where, and in response to which coupon offer.

With these promises, Ibotta helps resolve a long-standing challenge for coupon providers, in that the motives for manufacturers differ from those for retailers. If it can appeal to everyone involved—the brands, the retailers, and the customers—it might represent the future of couponing. Still, for the serious coupon clipper, a single site might never replace the fun and discounts they can accrue by combing through all the various sources that make coupons available.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do Millennials like coupons?
  2. How are retail marketers appealing to this demographic group?

Source: Penny Mosendz, Bloomberg, June 16, 2016.