Coupons come in the mail, in the paper, and shoppers like Nina Terheyden have clipped them for years, even bringing them to the store in a special file so they can save money.
"The decline of newspaper readership is really a major challenge for traditional paper coupons, and one of the reasons that my co-founder and I started CellFire is because we realize the way to reach consumers in a convenient way was to reach them where they were, which is on their phones and in front of the internet," says Brent Dusing, CellFire Inc.'s CEO.
The process has become seamless. Customers can go online and click on the coupons they want. At Safeway, the electronic coupon is automatically deducted when linked to your club card. Terheyden's basket totaled $401.55 today and then the coupon savings kicked in.
"Before it was like 'OK, where did we start?' And now it's watching all of the negatives going down, down, down. It's better than gambling," says Terheyden.
She's still clipping coupons because some companies haven't gone electronic yet, but the number is growing. Research indicates they are younger shoppers, the very buyers manufacturers want to target. Oakland-based Clorox is one of them.
"We do think they're very effective, and I think that's primarily driven by the fact that more and more of our consumers are online, and as their media consumption habits are changing -- and we're meeting them there -- we are finding that our redemptions for online coupons are high," says Tiffany Tran, the Clorox promotions brand manager.
Terheyden is looking forward to the day when all coupons are electronic.
"It definitely would save me time as a mom, working at home, and all I have to do is just a couple of clicks on the mouse and be on my way, instead of going through the Sunday paper and spending all the time I do looking for coupons," says Terheyden.
A new generation of coupon technology is a few days away. Coupons.com is taking advantage of smart phones that will let you create a shopping list and check for coupons in one step. It's an upgrade to an iPhone application called Grocery IQ.
"You pick up your smart phone, and you wave it in front of the package. It interprets the packaging. It ads the product to your list automatically and then will show you if there's a coupon for that product or product in that category to make use of," says Coupons.com CEO Steven Boal.
Whether you go online or use your mobile phone, the process of saving money with coupons is fast becoming seamless. And not too long from now, coupon-less.
Electronic coupons are also a benefit to the stores because they no longer have to keep track and turn in those physical coupons.