Things are tight, right? Money isn’t lasting as much as it used to? Do you find yourself increasingly scouring store ads for sales, just to stretch your budget? What if you could make your money go significantly further by incorporating simple strategies such as combining those store sales with manufacturers coupons?
It’s possible and it’s already being done. Over the past couple of years, the use of manufacturers coupons has been on the rise in Puerto Rico — with about one in five people using them at the registers — as the island’s depressed economy continues to put pressure on consumer pockets.
While Puerto Rican consumers who use them, currently get their coupons mostly online — through websites such as www.coupons.com, www.save.com and www.smartsource.com — the popularity of these vouchers has also surged in response to local coupon campaigns by major brands looking to help people stretch their money, while drumming up sales of their own products featured on the coupons.
In coming months, the availability of manufacturers coupons in Puerto Rico will get a much-needed boost with the introduction of a multi-brand booklet that has been about 10 months in the making and is the brainchild of Qponeo, a company headed by Diana Benítez, a couponer herself who wants to see their use become the rule rather than the exception.
“We want to offer consumers a key savings tool during the economic crisis that we’re experiencing,” said Benítez, adding that the company will publish 255,000 copies of the debut 12-page booklet, split between 250,000 to be inserted in El Nuevo Día and the remaining to be mailed to consumers who sign up through the Qponeo website.
“At the same time, we want to offer brands and businesses a chance to get on this fast-moving marketing vehicle that is going full speed ahead. Retailers that aren’t coupon-ready this year are going to miss out on a significant piece of the market that is headed toward incorporating the widespread use of manufacturers coupons,” she said.
Coupon use is commonplace…elsewhere
In the U.S. mainland, coupon inserts are a staple in most Sunday newspapers, with millions of coupons being circulated and redeemed each year, worth billions of dollars. Publishing companies such as SmartSource and RedPlum, among others, are responsible for the inserts that consumers clip and carry to the register.
Puerto Rico has not been part of that tradition, which explains why the use of this discount tool has had its challenges. However, that is seemingly changing, as major players such as Proctor & Gamble Unilever and Colgate, have begun publishing regular coupon inserts of their own at the encouragement of their stateside parent companies.
The Qponeo booklet, which will initially be published on a quarterly basis, is designed to give all brands, especially local businesses, the chance to market their products in a cost-effective way, Benítez said.
“We’re signing up multiple brands, so the cost of including a coupon in the booklet is diluted and shared by all of the participants. It certainly makes it an affordable option for businesses to get their coupons in there,” she said.
Besides publishing the booklet, Qponeo has established a clearinghouse that will serve as the operational backbone required to receive, sort, audit, invoice and pay out the value of the coupons. Benítez said because the coupons will not have to be mailed to clearinghouses stateside, participating companies will see shorter turn-around times in terms of knowing how well a campaign did, and whether it was cost-effective and worthy of repeating.
“We’ve invested in the technology needed to generate the bar codes and coupon design. We’ve also hired a local person, who is strictly in charge of wording the legal requirements of the coupon,” she said. “The clearinghouse will run its first official couponing campaign later this month, when a specific client will issue 2.3 million coupons. We hope to see at 10 percent redemption rate through that campaign.”
Qponeo has initially invested about $15,000 to lay down the basic operation, but Benítez said more will be pumped in to hire more people beyond the initial six the company has, and evolve coupon campaigns from paper to downloadables on the web.
Education is key
The booklet launch will be coupled with an educational campaign that calls for sponsoring at least four major workshops throughout the island. For this, Benítez is teaming up with expert Edith Tapia, who is largely responsible for sparking the couponing movement in Puerto Rico in recent years.
“We need to educate not only the consumer, but retailers and employees as well. People need to see the value of using these discount tools, and lose the fear of presenting them at the register,” she said. “At the same time, retailers and their employees have to make a greater effort in accepting coupons and making consumers feel comfortable using them. That’s what part of the message has to be.”
Benítez is also involving the Department of Consumer Affairs in the effort, as she said Puerto Rico needs a user’s manual of sorts to help people learn how to use coupons.
She is also collaborating up with executive Blake Patterson, who introduced the REMAG concept to the island through which consumers obtained manufacturers coupons for every newspaper and magazine they recycled at the kiosks located in Supermax grocery stores during a three-month trial period late last year.
“At some point we have to come together and create an industry. We have to work together to foster the use of manufacturers coupons in Puerto Rico, and go about it the right way because ultimately it’s a win-win-win situation: consumers win, brands win, and retailers win,” Benítez said.