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Online Coupon Use Looking Healthy

You can’t necessarily see them, but you can really feel their presence. At least, we can here at Mambo Sprouts. What are we talking about? Why, online coupons! We know from our own surveys that coupon use in general is one the rise, up nearly 10% in the last quarter of 2008, compared to Q4 2007. That’s the first jump in redemption since the early 1990s (according to Inmar Inc., a coupon processing agent).

Looking at the mix, online coupons are playing a much bigger role, with redemptions increasing 140% last year. Another study found that the number of people getting coupons on the web increased 38% over the past three years to some 36 million users. That study also found that redemption rates for online coupons was almost 17%, compared to 1% for traditional print inserts.

For this entry, I want to point out some of the benefits of online coupons. They allow marketers to reach brand-loyal consumers throughout the U.S., including those areas where customer-concentration isn’t high enough to warrant direct mail. What’s more, marketers can control how many coupons are available for download, refining promotional strategies in response to economic conditions. Online couponing also offers opportunities to collect customer information, pinpointing regions where demand is greatest.

At Mambo Sprouts, distribution of our multi-branded coupons for natural and organic products got a big boost after bloggers picked up on the coupons and began sending readers to our site. Supermarket retailers who want to offer more significant savings can start a blog of their own to help consumers match in-store specials with online coupons. Include a comment section so shoppers can share other coupon deals they’ve found. Or, post your own high-value coupons in exchange for some basic demographic info and customer opinions.

Whatever you do, it’s important to develop a clear online coupon policy and post it on your website and at the checkouts. Common rules might include a $2 limit, no free products, or a limit on the number of like-coupons redeemed. Train your front-end people to recognize the signs of a legitimate online coupon — a bar code, expiration date and fine print redemption policy.

Retailers who turn away online coupons do so at their own peril. Online coupons use is growing, and responsible coupon users want their retailers to respond accordingly.