AN old dog of product promotion - the coupon - is being taught some new tricks.
At thousands of supermarkets across the country, coupon-distribution machines sit side-by-side with products they promote. And at thousands of checkout counters, departing shoppers receive coupons for products that compete with the ones they just bought.
These programs are designed to target likely customers with greater accuracy and to achieve a higher rate of coupon use, or redemption, than coupons distributed by direct mail or in newspapers.
"The closer you can get the coupons to where the customer is actually making the decision, the more likely he is to use it," says John Rubin, a spokesman for ActMedia Inc. of Norwalk, Conn.
In February, the company installed 10,000 of its Instant Coupon Machines on shelves in 42 cities nationwide.
Where ActMedia reaches shoppers before they purchase, Catalina Marketing Corporation, based in Anaheim, Calif., reaches them as they leave the store - using data from the electronic scanners at the checkout counter.
The boon of this system is that manufacturers can pitch their wares directly to users of rival products. If a shopper bought Kraft's frozen macaroni and cheese, for instance, the bar-code scanner would trigger the coupon machine to print out a coupon for the same dish made by Stouffer's, explains Tommy Greer, Catalina's chief executive officer.
The coupons could also be for a related product. A shopper who buys baby food might get a coupon for a nearby clothing store for toddlers.