May 28, 2003, 12:00 AM

You can`t print a coupon if you don`t have a printer

Coupons.com recently launched CustomerCare Print & Mail that will guarantee delivery of clients` coupons through regular mail if the online option doesn`t work.

While the web can greatly increase shoppers’ convenience and the ability of sellers to reach out to them with promotional offers, it can also increase levels of frustration in a shopping medium dictated by technology that neither shoppers nor sellers can always control. A case in point is online coupons: They can be a great tool for reaching an online shopper. But not if she doesn’t have a printer.

With printers available for $99, who doesn’t have a printer these days? The 5-10% of web users who are accessing web sites through PDAs or web TV or whose printers have broken down, says Coupons Inc. Spotting a potential market, Coupons Inc.’s Coupons.com recently launched CustomerCare Print & Mail, that will guarantee delivery of clients’ coupons through regular mail if the online option doesn’t work. “When consumers go to print a coupon, we can detect if they’re having a problem,” CEO Steven Boal says. “A form then comes up automatically on their screen where they can enter their address information, and within 48 hours a full-color coupon comes out of our printing facility and is mailed out.”

Each coupon comes with a unique bar code that redemption centers will scan and forward to Coupons along with the retailer that redeemed the coupon. Coupons maintains a network identifier for each online coupon user, enabling its clients to match redeemed coupons with individual shoppers.

While consumers without printers sounds like a narrow niche, Boal notes that Coupons has tested the print-and-mail system for the past three months with seven companies, and so far they’ve all opted to continue with the service. Initial clients include Masterfoods Ltd., a marketing subsidiary of Mars Inc. that uses the system to promote M&Ms and Twix candies, and ConAgra Foods Inc., which uses it for its ACT II brand of popcorn.

Boal says the service can reduce the cost of call center operations by preventing frustrated customers who can’t print web coupons from calling customer service to request a coupon. The average cost of sending a paper coupon from a customer service center is about $3.50, compared to $1.25 for Coupons, Boal says.

Boal notes that the online coupon printing and mailing service is designed so that consumers are unable to receive both a printed and mailed coupon.

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