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Apple Wallet is so underexposed, even converts still call it Passbook. But it’s a potentially brilliant channel for saving and redeeming retail coupons. Tim Green wonders if ‘save to Wallet’ is finally about to become a thing …

This week, British shoppers of a certain age were moved by the news that department store BHS was going bust. Moved but not surprised. BHS is to the fast-evolving retail market as Chicory Tip is to hip hop. It’s the shop of the year. And the year is 1972.

The demise of BHS was inevitable. But even retailers with savvy digital execs are struggling to choose the right strategy. They’re looking at apps, microsites and even chatbots. But are they looking at Apple Wallet? Perhaps they should.

   Saving coupons to these wallets is ridiculously easy, as anyone who’s ever stored a boarding pass or Eventbrite ticket will know. But these same users will also admit that they don’t really use these wallets for anything else.

Last year, US manufacturers distributed around 321.3 billion coupons. An insane amount. But then again, we consumers do love our special offers. Another report revealed that nearly all Americans (96 per cent) are coupon users.

Now, you’d think in the age of the smartphone that mobile would be the primary means of redeeming our two-for-one bananas. Wrong. Retail tech firm Inmar says that, in 2015, 89 per cent of coupons sent out were ‘Free-Standing Inserts’. That’s leaflets in newspapers, basically.

Is this a good strategy? Are newspaper sales healthy? Exactly.

Inmar’s study says that despite dominating distribution, FSIs accounted for only 38.4 per cent of redemptions in 2015 – down from 43.3 per cent in 2011.

This is not just because people have stopped buying newspapers and magazines? It’s also that there’s just so much wrong with paper coupons. For example:

  • You forget to take them to the shop
  • You remember to take them to the shop, but forget them at the till
  • You need to cut them out of the newspaper, but can’t find your scissors
  • They expire just when you need them
  • They fill up your wallet and make it uncomfortable to wear skinny jeans, and therefore to look like Kate Moss

For this reason mobile seems like the obvious channel for coupons. All of the above problems are solved with a smartphone. But let’s face it, mobile couponing has failed to go mainstream so far.

Over the years I’ve written about plenty of interesting and successful launches in the space. Sweden’s Mobilab, for example, which broke records when it launched a free ice cream promo via Facebook with mobile redemption in-store. Or UK-based Eagle Eye Solutions, whose tech integrates coupon redemption into chip and PIN devices.

These firms and more illustrated the power of mobile as a channel. Redemption rates were 10x higher than paper. But the methodology could still be clunky. To make offers universal, promos often took the form of a string of digits to be manually inputted by the cashier.

Apart from the effort involved, this system meant coupons were not targeted and could be easily shared by shoppers.

Is there any answer to this? Well, yes of course there is. It’s on pretty much every smartphone out there (or will be shortly). I’m talking Apple Wallet and Android Pay.

Saving coupons to these wallets is ridiculously easy, as anyone who’s ever stored a boarding pass or Eventbrite ticket will know. But these same users will also admit that they don’t really use these wallets for anything else.

This is strange. At present, most people think of Apple Wallet (Google’s is still unavailable outside the US) as the destination for their Apple Pay card. Which rarely gets used, if most research is to be believed.

In fact, awareness of the wallet’s capabilities is so low that I’d argue most people don’t know what it is and those that do probably still call it Passbook.

But this could be about to change.

Yesterday I went to the launch of a couponing solution by the UK messaging company Veoo. The service lets any brand or retailer easily create campaigns with a ‘save to Wallet’ function. They can send texts or emails to shoppers’ phones with a link that, when clicked, populates the wallet with a new branded coupon.

Brands can target the coupons by any parameter they choose, send reminders when the offer is near expiry and even geolocate them to generate a notification when the shopper is near a store. The coupons themselves stay in the mobile wallet and are infinitely updateable

Veoo teamed up with US mobile marketing specialist Vibes to develop the solution. Vibes proved the validity of the idea through promos like one with Chipotle, which achieved 67 per cent redemption on an offer requested by 5.3m people.

It all seems like an idea worth investigating. But few have. The channel is under-explored. Perhaps it’s because retail brands are quite conservative (see previous stat about paper coupons) and because those that have experimented with digital are all building apps and sites.

tim-greenTim Green

Features Editor

MEF Minute

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When I spoke to Veoo’s VP of Corporate Sales, Gillian Hughes, she conceded that the only big brands really focused on Wallet right now are the airlines. Why? Because the efficiency of their ticketing is so crucial to their overall service.

So Veoo’s task is to sell big retailers on the power of storing coupons inside Apple’s and Google’s own apps. I think this is a powerful idea. And it’s one that can evolve. In the US, for example, Vibes has launched WalletAds, which let users ‘tap and save’ coupons to their mobile wallets directly from a banner ad.

It’s all too late for BHS. Shame. I would certainly have done a ‘save to wallet’ on money off platform shoes and cassette tapes.