Procter & Gamble is partnering with mobeam to bring mobile coupon technology to market. Mobeam's technology transforms a mobile barcode into a beam of light that laser scanners can see.
Mobeam CEO Christopher Sellers says his company's technology is compatible with an estimated 165 million laser scanners in use at retail points of sale around the world. "We do something for both sides of the equation," he said. "If every phone in the world worked but there was no receiver in retail, we'd still have this huge inhibition to mobile commerce."
The reflective, high-def displays on most mobile phones interfere with retail laser scanners' ability to read a barcode displayed on the screen, according to the company. QR codes are increasingly popular, but they only work with point-of-sale devices that include optical scanners. Realizing retailers lack the resources and will to address this infrastructure problem, mobeam aims to use the existing capabilities of handsets to work with older POStechnologies.
Tole Hart, research director for Mobile World, says it's a good technology that delivers coupons directly to phones in a secure way. He thinks the bigger news is Procter & Gamble's support.
"Procter & Gamble is the biggest couponer," Hart said. "If they're behind mobeam, then this will be a technology to watch."
The CPG giant selected mobeam to be its mobile coupon technology standard through its open innovation Connect+Develop program.
But first, mobeam has to get handset manufacturers to enable it on their phones. While mobeam makes use of existing hardware and circuitry for the LED on phones that indicates things like the state of charge or arrival of a new message, the application needs access to the LED's drivers.
Sellers thinks this is an easy sell.
"Every handset maker, carrier and service provider has been looking for a way to tap into the advertising of the consumer packaged goods companies and retailers," he says. He's pitching this as a way to add new functionality to existing hardware at no extra cost, because mobeam isn't charging a license fee to handset makers.
As the LED flashes information to the retailer's laser scanner, mobeam also could display an image on the handset's screen, which could be used for additional branding or marketing. It could even trigger a transmission via the near-field communications (NFC) chip to use a mobile wallet to pay for the item.
Consumers might get the mobile coupons onto their phones in several ways, according to Sellers. They might log onto P&G's eSaver site to search and send coupons to the phone, or they might go to the retailer's website and search for coupons. Ad networks also could push targeted mobile coupons to consumers.
The partnership with P&G does not include investment from the CPG company, according to Sellers. Mobeam might take a cut of each coupon transaction, or it could make money on tracking and reporting on when and where a coupon was used.
Tracking is crucial for brands, according to Mobile World's Hart, as is the ability to control and void expired coupons. "Most important for the brand is to be able to track when and how the coupon got loaded, when it was used, and by whom."
P&G is preparing its mobile couponing service to run on mobeam-enabled phones, and app development and testing is already underway. Sellers says he's in discussions with handset manufacturers and he expects market trials to begin in 2012.
The coupon market, estimated by NCH Marketing Services at $3.7 billion in the U.S. alone, is smoking. Last week, eBay said that PayPal will partner with 200 U.S. merchants to start offering coupons for mobile deals early in 2012. TechCrunch reported that Accel partners and ISAI invested $2.1 million in Shopmium, a French startup that lets brands push offers and coupons to consumers' smartphones. And Yowza, still another mobile couponing application with location-based features, closed an A round of funding while claiming McDonald's, My Gym, Dunkin' Donuts and HMSHost as customers.
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
March 19, 2014