Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Best Deals Are Yet To Come: Coupons Are Disappearing But Coupon Companies Are Thriving

Two recent blockbuster IPOs are evidence that the once sleepy coupon industry has transformed into a hotbed of new activity: Groupon has pioneered mass couponing for local retailers and convinced consumers to pre-pay. RetailMeNot has aggregated a large online coupon offering, and has made it easy for online shoppers to save money. At the time of this writing other digital coupon companies such as and eBates and are making plans to go public. And yet, it is only early days in the consumers' transition from clipping printed coupons to receiving relevant offers. The industry is still stuck in an age where 95% of coupons are printed, and the majority of those printed coupons is distributed to consumers as Free Standing Inserts (FSI). Less than 1% of FSI coupons are being redeemed, and worse, there is no easy way for consumer product manufacturers to track when and by whom they were purchased and redeemed. And while couponing as a category is moving online, paperless coupons presented at the point-of-sale accounted for only 2.2% of all coupon redemptions in 2012. Clearly, this is a highly inefficient situation.

Starting with Coca-Cola, coupons have served multiple purposes: To help consumer product manufacturers and retailers acquire new customers, increase the number of purchases of the same item, and incentivize customers to return. Specifically, manufacturers want consumers to switch to their product, while retailers want to increase shopping basket size and increase the number of trips to the store. Going forward, the digitization of coupons promises to make this a more seamless experience for the consumer and demonstrate ROI for manufacturers, in part by directly connecting to loyalty cards and credit cards. This digitization will also broaden the base  of coupon users and deliver coupons that are relevant: Traditionally, couponers tend to be consumers with low opportunity costs of couponing relative to income. With direct targeting, coupon manufacturers will be able to offer coupons to other user groups. It will also affect the coupon mix and physical locales for redeeming coupons: As consumption patterns and retail spaces continue to change, the shift away from food and grocery coupons towards other categories will continue. Already, the share of food coupons has declined from 70% in 2008 to about 60% in 2012.

Couponing marketplaces are two sided markets which require significant investments to acquire large audiences. In these ‘winner take most’ situations the race to dominate local couponing has been won by Groupon.  Livingsocial, once a major Groupon competitor, is struggling to survive, and other local coupon competitors such as BuyWithMe have been acquired or have folded. The rewards of scaling fast are tremendous: Even at this early stage in the digital transformation, and despite short operating histories, companies like Groupon and RetailMeNot are commanding market capitalizations worth billions of dollars.

So while it may appear that the couponing space is consolidating already, there are three reasons why early stage  investors should pay close attention

  • Couponing is still in its infancy: Relationships between consumers, manufacturers and retailers continue to migrate online, and existing players occupy only small segments of the couponing space.
  • Value networks are continuing to change: RetailMeNot and Groupon have emerged out of nowhere to become public companies in less than five years, and the impact of players like Pinterest on the landscape is only beginning to be understood

  • Plenty of exit opportunities exist: The viability of IPOs in the coupon space has been demonstrated, and public companies have proven to be active acquirers.

In couponing, RetailMeNot and Groupon are akin to the first wave of Web 1.0 portals. There are many opportunities of start-ups like Ibotta, Shopmium and Aisle50 to take the consumer experience to the next level and demonstrate ROI for consumer product manufacturers and retailers.

Disclosure: I was one of the first investors in BuyWithMe, an early Groupon competitor. I am an early investor in Aisle50, a leading provider of prepaid coupons for grocery stores and consumer products manufacturers.


  1. nice article; could not agree with it more....i co-founded and run, which is India's largest couponing site. A lot of interesting stuff we are doing on this....would be good to connect at some point and share, drop me a line.....

  2. Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Christian, investing in a Coupon site where there is hardly any competition, would love to speak further with you. Can you drop me a line

  4. I really appreciate information shared above. It’s of great help. If someone want to learn Online (Virtual) instructor lead live training in VEEVA VAULT, kindly contact us
    MaxMunus Offer World Class Virtual Instructor led training on VEEVA VAULT. We have industry expert trainer. We provide Training Material and Software Support. MaxMunus has successfully conducted 100000+ trainings in India, USA, UK, Australlia, Switzerland, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Bahrain and UAE etc.
    For Demo Contact us.
    Avishek Priyadarshi
    Skype id: avishek_2 .
    Ph:(0) 8553177744 / 080 - 41103383

    1. ANYTIME !!
      Here is my email and SM information! !
      Kelli Thomas
      @krazyskibunnie2 tweet me