Interactive Coupon Network's service (http://www.coolsavings.com) lets marketers make frequent changes in their promotional offers by allowing them direct access to the site, and provides detailed anonymous information about how, where and when consumers downloaded and used the coupons.
When consumers print out coupons at home, each coupon gets a unique number and bar code that can be scanned at cash registers; marketers determine how many coupons per household each CoolSavings user can download.
Consumers using the service for the first time are asked to fill out an online "registration" form, which guarantees that marketers will make no direct contact or follow-up offers unless requested to do so.
Other online coupon services including Money Mailer's H.O.T. Coupons (http://www.hotcoupons.com) don't allow individual numbering and bar coding of coupons.
'TRUE RELATIONSHIP MARKETING'
"This is true relationship marketing where both the marketer and the consumer are in control, which is what's been missing from the online coupon equation," said Hillel Levin, Interactive Coupon Network's president.
Participants in CoolSavings include J.C. Penney Co., Toys "R" Us, Chuck E. Cheese's, Boston Market and H&R Block; most have signed on for at least six months at a cost of $7,900 a month, Mr. Levin said.
In a weeklong promotion offered by H&R Block, 10% of consumers downloading a coupon for 25% off on premium tax preparation redeemed the coupon, which is significantly higher than the 2% to 3% average redemption rate for traditional coupons. Wunderman Cato Johnson, Chicago, is Block's promotional agency.
CoolSavings can reach certain computer-savvy audiences, but it's not yet a potent promotional tool for many mass-market and package-goods products, because only a fraction of U.S. households have Internet access, said Jim Lucas, director of planning and research for Chicago-based promotion agency Frankel & Co.
"It's a real step forward for Internet couponing," he said, "but it's not viable