Last Updated Jul 2, 2009 12:52 PM EDT
Electronic coupons have been on companies' radar for awhile now, but in the past couple of months, more services have been popping up. Unilever launched a test run in late May, offering mobile coupons for Breyers ice cream, Hellmann's mayonnaise and other products at a single ShopRite store in New Jersey.
"This has been a Holy Grail thing that people have been trying to figure out," says Marc Shaw, director of integrated marketing at Unilever, the first major marketer to test such a service in the U.S. "I think this is on target for where consumers' heads are at right now."Other companies -- most recently Hormel -- are pushing online coupons, but those typically have to be printed out, which requires the customer to do some planning before going to the grocery store. The advantage of mobile coupons is that the offers can be accessed on the fly from the customer's cell phone.
The creators of Coupon Sherpa, an iPhone application that launched in April, emphasized the environmentally-friendly aspects of mobile coupons. "We know that paper coupons will not be completely replaced, but providing consumers and retailers with an outlet for mobile coupons is a positive start towards reducing the waste created by the mountains of mail we all receive," co-founder Luke Knowles said in a press release.
With that application, shoppers indicate which store they're at and the available coupons come up on their iPhone. The cashier can just scan the bar code from the iPhone screen -- solving the problem presented by coupon codes that cashiers have to enter manually, which can slow down the check-out line.
Stop & Shop offers coupons on its "Scan It" device, which allows shoppers to ring up items as they shop. When customers add an item, the device offers coupons on other items that are close by, says Frank Riso, senior director of global retail solutions at Motorola, which created the device. "So if I'm getting peanut butter and I scan it," he told BNET, "it knows where I am and it might remind me to buy jelly as well."