Canadians want to stop clipping coupons out of the weekend newspaper and start downloading them from the Web, but many grocers won’t accept printed-at-home coupons because of the risk of fraud, experts say.
A new survey shows that Canadians on the Internet are interested in downloading coupons that would save them a few bucks on every-day necessities such as items in the shopping cart. Nearly six out of 10 Canadians is interested in downloading coupons to save at the pumps, and 54 per cent of Canadians are interested in grocery store coupons.
The Ipsos Reid poll reveals a potentially untapped market that could drive a massive amount of Web traffic, says Mark Laver, associate vice president at Ipsos Reid Public Affairs. It’s also another avenue for retailers wanting to get special offers in front of consumer eyeballs.
“There’s clearly a market for it,” he says. “Not just for coupons at online stores, but at brick and mortar locations too.”
But the path to offering downloadable coupons isn’t free of road blocks. Many grocers in Canada won’t accept printed coupons for fear of fraud, says Kimberley Clancy, owner and operator of Almighty Media Corp. The company runs frugalshopper.ca, a collection of forums where users swap links to online coupons.
“If you get an offer from Ocean Spray to download their coupons and you print it off, then Dominion and A&P will tell you they won’t accept it because it might be fraudulent,” she says. “That sends mixed messages.”
The stores under the Montreal-based Metro Inc. umbrella seem to have a loose policy against accepting the printed coupons, Clancy adds. The company runs stores under the Dominion, A&P, Food Basics, Loeb, and Super C brands.
Dominion does offer printable coupons on its own Web site that are accepted in-store. The problem arises when food manufacturers give away online coupons that the grocer may not be aware of. For these coupons, using them at the cash is hit and miss.
“You’re talking about getting luck instead of a coupon being universally accepted,” she says. “They tend to think that if it’s printed in colour, it’s more legitimate.”
ITBusiness.ca attempted to contact Metro to clarify the company’s policy, but received no response to an interview request by time of publication.
The Ipsos survey shows that Canadians may not know about the coupons offered by grocers on their respective Web sites. Those companies could likely do a better job of promoting the coupons, Lavery says.
“People are interested in using coupons, they’re just not finding them at this point,” he says. “The question is whether online retailers can get people to their sites.”
Canadians were also interested in downloading Web coupons for restaurants (44 per cent), food delivery services (38 per cent), consumer electronics (35 per cent) and travel needs like airplane tickets and hotels (34 per cent each.)
Frugalshopper.ca attracts millions of page views a month, according to Clancy. The forum has more than 10,000 registered users that trade tips about coupons, and many more thousands read those tips for free. Thousands of coupons are listed on the site and many of them are printable, and the most popular category is groceries.
“It’s a very cost effective and direct way to get coupons to customers,” the Web site owner says. “Companies should really like it because they can target who they want.”
Some Canadian sites, like save.ca, get around the problem of printed coupons not being accepted by mailing Web surfers coupons for free. But even these are sometimes not accepted at the cash, Clancy says. But the site encourages users to notify them if they coupons are denied.
“In many cases, the manufacturer will rectify the problem by sending you a coupon in the mail,” she says. The same practice often goes with printed coupons that are denied.
South of the border, Americans have much better luck using printed coupons at their grocery chains. U.S. Web sites like Coupons.com include a Universal Product Code (UPC) on each coupon. That allows the coupon to be scanned and verified at the point of check out. But in Canada, no coupons are scanned by cashiers.
Many coupons found in flyers have UPC codes, Clancy explains, but they aren’t for use by the cashier. They are used by the Saint John, New Brunswick-based company Resolve Corp. The management services company organizes coupons for almost all manufacturers across the country.
Retailers are clearly interested in pushing their products with coupons, as evidenced by the stacks of penny-saving offers that come in weekend newspapers, Laver says. Given the widespread use of the Internet in Canada, it may be only a matter of time until coupons find their way to the Web.
“When you have Internet penetration in the 80 per cent range, you think there’d be a market for this,” he says. “Maybe the first one to do this will make some swift business.”
The demographics most interested in downloadable coupons are younger people in the 18-34 or 35-54 age bracket, making more than $40,000 household income per year. This contrasts with the stereotypical penny-pinching senior citizen that dutifully clips out coupons.
Women are more interested in using coupons at the grocery store, while men want to save on consumer electronics.
The poll is accurate within 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.