Online coupon use may take off in Canada with Couponclick.ca launch

Canadians may start printing more coupons from the Web and clipping less of them from the weekend penny saver if Couponclick.ca gets its way.

Launching this Fall, the site is currently live in demo only – so don’t try to use any of those coupons.

But its creators are hoping that a combination of marketing and security features with a high-profile media partner to boot will change the fortunes of Canadians looking to use print-at-home coupons.

A sparse number of printable coupons from the Web are available across the country, but they have yet to take hold in the same way as they have south of the border.

Quebec-based PromoPost Services is partnering with Canoe.ca’s Web portal to launch the service. A big focus for the online coupon provider is to prevent fraud, says Christian Dion, senior business development manager for Couponclick.ca.

“Any time you deal with a currency marketplace, you have chances of an individual wanting to tamper with the system,” he says. “So the coupon is never visible on the screen of the user. You print it and it goes directly to the printer.”

Other online coupons have been made available in Adobe’s PDF format, he adds. But that’s risky as it makes it too easy to use Photoshop to change the the coupon’s value. Couponclick.ca’s coupons will also have intricate designs in the background, similar to paper money, making it very difficult to alter the value even if a user scans the printed image.

There will also be two bar codes on each coupon — one identifying the promotion advertised, and the other identifying the individual using the coupon.

“Each consumer has their own UPC bar code,” Dion says. “That makes it easy for us to detect if they’ve made multiple copies, so we can take them out of the database.”

Users of Couponclick.ca will need to register with the site using their name and postal code to receive access to coupons.

Despite the slow adoption of printable coupons in their country, Canadians do want them. A September 2008 Ipsos Reid poll shows that more than half of survey respondents were highly likely to download a coupon for gas, or for groceries. Many Canadians also expressed interest in coupons for restaurants (44 per cent), electronics (38 per cent) and travel related items.

But confusion created by unclear policies in the industry may have put a damper on some of that enthusiasm, says Kimberley Clancy, the operator of Almighty Media Corp. and Frugalshopper.ca.

“A lot of people have given up on Internet coupons because you go up to the cashier and they’re not accepted,” she says. “Consumers can be embarrassed when they are turned down for a coupon. They don’t want to be accused of fraud.”

Large grocery chains such as Metro Inc. and Loblaw Companies Ltd. have created policies against accepting printed coupons because of the fraud risk, Clancy adds. But in practice the policy is hazy. Each cashier appears to have a different policy when it comes to what coupons are acceptable or not.

“There’s been some real understanding between the manufacturers and the retailers,” Clancy says.

Part of the confusion stems from bar codes not being scanned by Canadian grocers. The bar codes found on coupons are only useful once they reach the clearinghouse, to indicate to a manufacturer it has been used.

A large media partner and a valuable marketing feature might turn the tide for online coupons in Canada. The Canoe.ca portal is one of Canada’s most-trafficked sites and it will feature banner ads across its Web sites to promote Couponclick.ca.

The ads will feature a well-known product coupon that users can access, Dion says.

Marketers may also get on board, he says, because the individual bar code feature lends the coupons added security. The codes could be used to track a person’s buying habits and general interests — information worth its weight in gold to advertisers.

“We track the information in multiple ways,” Dion says. “We can see when the coupon is being printed, what region is most responsive to the offer, or we can get down to the nitty-gritty details and see that it’s consumers with two kids aged zero to two, who are most likely to respond to that diaper coupon.”

Users of the site will have to opt-in to receive targeted advertising, Dion adds.

The marketing ace and Canoe.ca’s involvement are good signs for the business, Clancy says.

“With that kind of backing behind it, hopefully these coupons will get redeemed,” she says. “They could clear up the misconceptions around their usability and make them mainstream.”

This is the first foray into the online market space for PromoPost. It has previously been a direct mail marketer, specializing in highly-targeted mailings to consumers based on demographics and known behaviours. It is a member of the Association of Coupon Professionals, a U.S.-based international authority in the coupon marketing industry.

That association has made printable coupons much more popular in the U.S., with a 25 per cent market penetration. But Canada’s market hasn’t given the effort a warm embrace just yet – but not a cold shoulder either.

Loblaw’s stores won’t be accepting the coupons at launch.

“They are still trying to wrap their heads around our technology,” Dion says. “They’ve been burned in the past by print-at-home coupons.”

Another potential perk of print-at-home coupons is that Canadians might actually use the coupons they receive. Only about three per cent of coupons sent out to the public ever get used, according to Couponscanada.org.

ITBusiness.ca sought comment from Loblaw, but didn’t receive a response by time of publication.

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