coupon-visibleFor years, savvy shoppers have turned to the newspaper to find the best deals at the local grocery store. But new technologies are taking a bite out of the printed coupons, and a Kirkland company by the name of Visible Brands wants to accelerate that trend.

The company is developing a new digital coupon system, one which it says will transform the way people find discounted items in the grocery aisles. To help jumpstart efforts, it recently closed out a funding round at $4.6 million.

“We are delivering the first cloud based media platform that delivers a seamless, targeted in-store digital promotions capability for advertisers,” explains CEO Tim Morton, adding that the technology “crushes how brands traditionally influence shoppers at the shelf.”

Here’s the deal.

Instead of clipping printed coupons or downloading a mobile app, Visible Brands displays discounts on a touch-screen device right in the grocery aisle. To activate a coupon, the shopper simply touches the screen, and the digital coupon is wirelessly connected to a cart or basket. The discount is then applied at checkout, showing up on the receipt.

digitalscreen111Visible Brands notes that 70 percent of purchasing decisions are made in the grocery aisle, not while in the car, watching TV or reading a magazine. Connecting with shoppers at the time of purchase is critical, says Morton. The technology also allows retailers to send customized offers to high-value shoppers, using predictive analytics to determine discounts that might be worth displaying. That, in turn, can result in bigger shopping trips and more profits for grocery stores.

With the new funds, Morton said that they are pushing for a commercial launch with several “tier 1” regional and national supermarket chains. The capital was provided by undisclosed angel investors, with Morton only describing them as a “savvy group of investors who understand the scope of our market opportunity.” Executives from Microsoft, VISA, AOL and Vulcan Capital are among the backers, while strategic advisors include former First Data senior vice president Doug Byerley and former aQuantive executive Bill Keadle.

Visible Brands also has been working closely with technology partners Microsoft and HP on the offering. In a recent interview with the Windows Azure team, Morton offered a more detailed explanation of how the technology works.

“We use collaborative filtering and location-aware wireless networks to deliver the most relevant coupons to shoppers based on real-time analytics. We can optimize against a store’s demand ratios; that is, people who like this might like that, too. We also know, for example, where shoppers are dwelling in the store and whether they are on a quick trip or a stock-up. With these (consumer packaged goods-focused, data-driven insights, we can optimize campaigns to deliver the right offer at the right time to the right shopper. Advertisers get the opportunity to deliver the last impression to shoppers who vote with their feet.”

Morton added in an email to GeekWire that the Visible Brands technology allows big consumer goods brands — who spend $300 billion in the U.S. on retail promotions — to start a dialog with consumers online or mobile and “finish the conversation shoppers in the store … right at the shelf.”

Here’s a video overview of how the system works.

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  • David Aronchick

    It’s a nice idea, but the intent behind couponing is that people will look at the coupon, buy the product and FORGET to redeem. I’d be interested to see how they deal with that.

    • RalphF

      that’s just not true David…the intent of a coupon is to stimulate new user trial and to enlarge your customer base..

      • David Aronchick

        Respectfully, I founded a startup that’s the #2 in revenue this year for the category around coupons (in the hundreds of millions of $). CPG/etc use the coupons as _marketing_ but don’t want you redeeming. They measure two things – lift in the stores (high) and redemptions (low). People have been selling “closing the loop” forever, but if they close the loop then the marketing has a far higher cost which hurts margins.

        • Tim Morton

          To your point, people talk about closing the loop. We make it happen. VisibleBrands is integrated with POS, sees every checkout transaction – and measures campaign performance. This requires running a web-connected media network in retail that captures path and traffic data, accepts, redemptions ….and resulting incremental lift vs. baseline on digital campaigns. Simply put – this is the magic of VisibleBrands. Coupons are typically nothing more than a price reduction designed to build awareness — e.g., fire, pray and forget. Our solutions provide advertisers the ability to control digital ad dollars in the store (caps, limits, dynamic pricing, real time optimization etc), measure campaign performance & drive profitable digital promotions based on realized lift, costs and expected contribution margin. E.g., If we throw a $1.00 coupon for a brand operating at 40% gross margins with a 100% incremental lift in unit sales attribution…we drive a substantial increase in cash dollar profits based on modest CPM’s and conversion rates. Our digital offers allow brands the ability to dialog with a desired shopper when they arrive right in front of their products – with intent to buy. In simple terms, we are a smart, turbo charged web-connected sales engine proving to influence consumer brand purchase decisions right at the shelf. We serve the last impression, make in-store digital promotions a seamless experience for the consumer…and a profitable experience for the brand.

  • Steve Murch

    While I can see the consumer benefit, I’m not entirely sure that this is the concept that most Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies want most.

    Coupons are used for many things, but most typically, they are used to attract price-sensitive customers to a brand who are willing to “work” for it (clipping, organizing, redeeming) while still being able to maintain regular prices for those that are less price sensitive. The friction involved in redeeming the coupon is actually part of the deliberate strategy (from the point of the CPG company, it’s a feature, not a bug). Using technology to eliminate that friction removes one of the key reasons that coupons are -traditionally- employed, but it could certainly open up new benefits. The trick though is in re-training the mindset of the product managers and media buyers, who, when they hear “coupon” usually think of this price-skimming/price-penetration role.

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