The Mobile Coupon Is Broken and Procter & Gamble Has Found a Solution

Procter & Gamble, the consumer packaged goods giant, is teaming up with a small technology start-up to distribute its first coupons on mobile phones.

The start-up, called Mobeam, got the endorsement of such a large company because of a major glitch in the couponing system: Most scanners in grocery stores cannot read a bar code displayed on the screen of a cellphone.

“Couponing has been one of the tried and tested tools to incentivize consumers to try our products,” said Jeff Weedman, P&G’s VP of global business development. “Ads around the world have moved digital, but there was a hole in the system. You can deliver coupons digitally, but frankly our customers weren’t happy about it. It doesn’t scan at most grocery scanners, and it slowed the system down because the checkout person would have to plug in the numbers manually.”

In October, Cupertino, Calif.-based Mobeam raised $4.9 million in capital to solve this problem, developing technology that coverts bar code data into a beam of light that can be read by most checkout-counter scanners.

A host of applications are already available for download on many smartphones — Starbucks has been one of the shining examples. Its application, which allows customers to pay at the register, has enabled 26 million mobile payment transactions this year alone.

But few people realize that Starbucks had to replace all of its scanners in its stores for the app to work.

Today, couponing is $3.7 billion segment of the consumer packaged goods market in North America, with more than 300 billion coupons distributed every year.

Increasingly, they are going digital, too.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in investments have been made this year in the distribution of coupons online and via mobile. Most recently, WhaleShark raised $150 million. Others include CouponCabin.com, which raised $54 million; and Coupons.com, which secured $230 million in two megarounds.

The prospect of finding coupons online and saving them to the phone, which can then be scanned at the register, is appealing. Currently, the main two options are to clip coupons from the newspaper, or to print coupons that were found online.

But don’t expect to be able to start using Mobeam’s technology tomorrow.

Mobeam will have to convince phone manufacturers to integrate its technology into their hardware. It says it is expecting phones to start shipping as soon as next year.

(Photo credit: sdc2027)


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik