With one child in college and another in high school, seeing a movie on the big screen is a rare indulgence for our family. So when our high school student wanted some concession-stand popcorn after we bought our tickets, I rolled my eyes as she walked over, wallet in one hand and cellphone, of course, in the other.
"What did that set you back?" I asked when she returned, popcorn in hand.
"Two bucks," she said. "I had a coupon on my phone."
D'oh! And so the younger generation schools the older.
Mobile coupons, also known as e-coupons, are retrieved via smartphone, like an e-ticket is used at the boarding gate for an airplane flight.
Accessing mobile coupons typically means logging on to the sites of the venues and shops you patronize. Corporate businesses currently are likelier than independent businesses to offer mobile coupons. If you're on the Tattered Cover's e-mail list, you'll occasionally get discount offers, but Barnes & Noble's offers daily deals. But those e-mails can pile up -- and often, you can find coupons without them.
A mobile coupon uses either barcodes, popular with corporations because it's easier to track spending habits, or text messages, which have a broader reach and wider application, including discounts, free products and sweepstakes entries.
Savvy shoppers can figure out how to combine mobile coupons with other discounts, including printable coupons and on-site discounts.
"Recently, we went to the movies, and I was able to get tickets through my phone, redeeming a Groupon voucher, and I didn't even have to stand in line," said Maria Tiongco Ramos, who owns a social media consulting business, ASavingsWow.
"Instead of standing in line, we got the tickets through my phone, with a confirmation code, and went to a kiosk, punched in the number, and printed out the tickets. I see a lot more retailers and entertainment providers taking advantage of e-coupons. Plus, when you walk into a movie theater or restaurant, you're starting to see signage that says, 'Sign up for our newsletter online and we'll give you a free appetizer or dessert.' You can sign up immediately, and get that offer when you're seated at the table."
Win-win for everybody
For retailers, mobile coupons are cheaper than print coupons, eliminating the cost of printing and mailing, with the added benefit of collecting user behavior data and building brand loyalty.
For consumers, mobile coupons can offer significant savings -- my daughter saved $4 on popcorn -- and convenience. Using a smartphone to look up savings becomes reflexive, especially for younger consumers, according to a 2009 Forrester study.
"I see this trend in the couponing classes I teach," says Jennie Sanford, whose Colorado-based BargainBlessings couponing blog has become a full-time job. "If I have 60 people in front of me, and I start talking about mobile apps and e-coupons, it's the younger generation of attendees who are on the edge of their seats, pulling out their phones and pulling up the apps while I'm talking."
"Studies say Latinos use mobile coupons more than the general population," she said. "That's not true for print coupons. But younger Latinos are mobile at a younger age, and they're very value-oriented. My sister uses mobile coupons for Hobby Lobby and Michael's, and those kinds of stores. You're more apt to find heavy use in the area of shows, entertainment and music venues. "
Texts carry savings
Alma Sauseda, 30, is a young Latina who pays attention to the text messages she gets from Target, Macy's, Jo-Anne Fabric and Craft Stores and other retailers.
"I've got all their mobile apps, and if I'm somewhere and don't have a coupon, then I'll Google the business," she said.
"Like, I was at Grease Monkey for an oil change, and I Googled, and found a coupon for $6 off. Anytime I see a deal on diapers -- I have a 9-month-old -- I'll take advantage of that. When I get together with my girlfriends, we'll talk about where we're saving money."
Mobile coupons and using smartphones for comparison shopping are starting to catch on with shoppers old enough to remember when "Dialing For Dollars" was a TV show. When Cher Gillespie, 39, goes shopping, she often uses her smartphone to snap a photo of a product's bar code, then pulls up the Amazon app to compare prices.
"If it's cheaper at Amazon, I just order it from my phone," she says. "When I was at the car show, the line was extremely long, but they had a short e-ticket line. I whipped out my phone and bought my ticket online while I was in that line. It was ready to go two minutes later when I got to the counter."