Mobile Coupon Marketing vs. Traditional Offers

The Battle of Mobile Couponing versus Offers

Written by: Sue LeClaire

Before you can decide whether to deliver offers or mobile couponing offers  to your customers, you need to understand the difference. Although many use the terms interchangeably, there is a fundamental philosophy that sets offers and coupons distinctly apart: ACCOUNTABILITY.


By far, the most common type of discount available to consumers are offers. Offers come in many forms such as, “buy X quantity, get one free.” Retailers like using offers because it gets consumers to buy more.

In the mobile space, customers who have signed up for SMS lists will typically receive offers text message promotions. My SMS app currently has numerous “limited offer” messages from retailers. All of the messages contain a promo code to present at check-out to obtain the discount. The length of the promo code often tells me if the retailer gave me a generic or a single-use offer. 

Everyone on the planet can use a generic promo code to receive the discount. As a consumer, I can use it 100 times in one day as well as share it with friends and family. Generic offers tend to be predictable. Generic offers will never inspire me to “drop everything and run to the store because I have to use the coupon now.” My reaction is more akin to “next time I’m out running errands I’ll use the coupon.” An example of a generic offer is $5 OFF a $100 purchase.

From a retailer’s perspective, more is better when delivering a generic offer to consumers such as “buy 10 pizzas, get one free”. On the other hand, more is not always better when a retailer decides to use one-time-use offers (e.g., $10 off to shop in-store).  $10 off could become an expensive promotion if customers are able to use the offer with no restrictions.


On the other hand, retailers can deliver more generous discounts to customers by using coupon platform software that employs single-use coupons. These are digital coupons that can only be used once. This include reliable security measures that eliminate a retailer’s liability and minimizing fraud. Second, if the single-use coupon is dynamic – updated every time a customer views it, it can be managed in multiple channels providing a truly unique customer experience. Finally, retailers can track coupon usage.

The coupon platform software should include a security model that is two-fold: 1) the coupon codes have to be unique and; 2) the coupon codes link to unique identifiers. For example, a unique identifier could be a person’s mobile device number, a loyalty program number, a smartphone app ID, an email address, etc. The combination of a unique coupon code and unique identifier, such as mobile phone number, ensures the mobile device (or owner of the mobile device) receives only one coupon form the mobile coupon marketing program. Even when deleted, the person will receive the same coupon if they attempt to retrieve it a second time.

Given that consumers are multi-device, they should be able to view the coupon – the same coupon – in the channels of their choosing. Channels could include email, mobile web, a retailer’s mobile app, Facebook, Passbook, etc. The combination of a unique coupon code and channel ID lets the retailer both deliver and invalidate the coupon in all of the channels their customers choose to view it. The retailer can even mark the coupon as redeemed so the customer knows it has been used and doesn’t re-present the coupon at check-out. Dynamically updating coupons in all channels provides a true omnichannel customer experience.

The icing on the cake is the ability to track the purchase funnel via the coupon. Using the coupon codes and linked attributes, a retailer will know who received the coupon, when it was viewed, in which channel, and where it was redeemed. Whew! That’s a lot of customer intelligence that can be applied to the delivery of future coupons.

All three of these capabilities encapsulate ACCOUNTABILITY – only the number of coupons issued can be redeemed; a customer can receive only one coupon; if they delete the coupon and try to retrieve it, they will receive the same coupon as before; and the retailer knows by whom, when and where the coupon was used.

Offers will continue to be a popular vehicle for retailers to deliver discounts to consumers. Primarily because they’re easy – anyone can create one. Hopefully, in the mobile offers versus coupons, it is clear that coupons are different than offers. A coupon is a liability and should be treated as such. Providing digital coupons (not offers) can create a unique customer experience and provide the information retailers need to create even more compelling coupons for their customers.