When we talked about how to improve the mobile coupon experience back in February, the Association of Coupon Professionals took note. This week at its annual Industry Coupon Conference, it’s clear that there is an emerging digital divide within the coupon industry.

Coupons & Consumers

While we don’t necessarily spend a lot of time focused on coupons, the impact that mobile has had on how consumers access and redeem discounts on food and non-food items is something I couldn’t ignore. I was invited to speak about the mobile coupon experience and in preparation I began to identify barriers and best practices.

Before you can talk about the mobile coupon experience, however, you have to understand the proliferation of coupons in American consumership. First, as consumer confidence decreases, coupon redemption increases. It makes sense. A troubled economy forces average consumers to cut back and look for ways to save money on the things they buy most, namely groceries.

Secondly, 95% of coupons are still delivered in print. Yes, you read that correctly. In fact, it doesn’t matter how old you are or if you’re male or female, consumers across most demographics use print and digital coupons the same amount. It also doesn’t matter that print media, where coupons are most often found, are in decline.

But things are starting to change. With more consumers owning smartphones, more and more consumers want more access to digital coupons, whether accessible directly from websites or from their phones. So why not deliver more coupons digitally, as in print? Most coupon manufactures remain unconvinced or at least very hesitant to switch gears or to incorporate mobile coupons into the mix.

Barriers to the Mobile Coupon Experience

By examining the barriers and best practices of the mobile coupon experience, it became quite clear that even when you apply the right content and messaging, much of the coupon redemption process gets lost in translation. That is to say, sometimes our biggest barrier is ourselves. After all, the customer experience is essentially the human experience. And as we know, as humans, we’re flawed.

As I sought to research the mobile coupon experience, I did my own testing. I used various apps that allowed for mobile coupons to be scanned at checkout. It seemed easily enough, but more times than not it was not. Cashiers were unaware of how to scan a mobile coupon, or I was told that they didn’t accept mobile coupons. Each time, a manager was called over and the situation was quickly resolved by showing cashiers how they can scan a mobile coupon.

Sometimes I was unable to access the mobile coupons via the store’s app because of shaky in store WiFi. Other times, I was shy about using a mobile coupon because there were no indications that they were an option. Stores didn’t devote any signage promoting mobile coupons, therefore leaving me to feel awkward using it.

Best Practices for Mobile Coupon Redemption

But this isn’t about me, it’s about consumers getting what they want, when they want it, how they want it. More and more smartphone users are turning to their devices for eCommerce. Whether it’s to purchase a Starbucks coffee directly from their phone, to buy directly from a retailer's mobile website, or to scan a mobile coupon upon checkout, retailers are starting to feel the pressure from these demands.

As we know from our customer service strategies and our community relationship management tools, it’s not just about the technology; it’s about knowing your audience. It’s about figuring out how to manage all the touch points, so that from download to checkout, consumers feel empowered, not overwhelmed or let down by the experience.

The goal of coupons, no matter the format, is to drive traffic -- literally -- into stores. But the in-store experience is hard to control. Just as companies spend lots of time and money training customer service agents to react appropriately to customers’ concerns, retailers must also commit to training in store staff to appropriately manage the technology in place to optimize the customer experience. In order to optimize the mobile coupon experience, it’s essential to ensure that the technology matches the reality of the customer journey.