Can coupon clipping succeed in a digital age?
Our own John Vance discusses how mobile coupon apps impact the customer experience.
Print circulars have fallen out of favor, just like the newspapers that carry them. But European media giant Axel Springer is trying to resurrect the format by tailoring them to mobile users.

Axel Springer launched a mobile app for circulars in 2013. Today, the app, Retale, features more than 180 retailers, has logged 1.3 billion engagements and surpassed 5 million downloads. For Retale, an engagement means that a mobile user opened and read a circular, which might include a deal on a cell phone contract, promotions for box springs, and the latest price cuts on electronics from retailers like Verizon, Sleepy’s and Best Buy.

“A lot of people think circulars are dinosaurs,” said Pat Dermody, president of Retale and the former vp of marketing services at Sears Holdings Corp. “But we fit squarely in the mobile shopping space — something that Axel Springer has been bullish about. They’re set on building that mobile marketplace.”

Axel Springer, which just closed its $450 million deal to acquire Business Insider, is an unusual publisher. While it has newspaper properties, it has succeeded in digital in large part through diversification. It has a strong digital classifieds business, for instance.

Circulars haven’t totally lost touch with the physical world. Retale’s mobile marketplace is meant to drive coupon-clippers into brick-and-mortar stores. The app uses location-based technology to show deals nearby, and allows users to apply filters by category, all to make the experience more manageable than print circulars. Users can save their favorite stores, electronically “clip” the week’s coupons and scan them in-app at checkout.

The app’s goal is to appeal to existing coupon-clippers who now use smartphones as well as introduce the habit to young, digital natives. Paper coupon-clipping may be on the way out, but saving money isn’t. A Retale study found that 75 percent of smartphone users surveyed said they viewed a retail circular in the past month.

“You get the sense that coupon clipping is on the wane demographically, but this could bring it back,” said John Vance, vp of customer experience at business and technology consulting firm West Monroe Partners. “Digitally, you can speed up the process and make it more focused. Saving money isn’t generational.”

To read more of the article as it first appeared in Digiday, click here