As you may have noticed in the last couple of years there has been a surge of popularity in online discount vouchers in the UK. A week doesn’t go by without a voucher for Gap, GBK, Ask, Urban Outfitters or H&M landing in my inbox.  All you have to do is print them out and take them in-store. Sites like Money Saving Expert are visited by millions looking for discount vouchers to download.

Voucher Background

The peak of the craze was in December 2006 when Thresher’s saw its ‘40% off all wine and champagne’ voucher downloaded and printed by millions of people and was so popular that it made the news. The following year they relaunched the offer.


Since then printable vouchers have exploded and been in constant supply from top high street retailers, in fact I’m holding a 30% one for Gap right now. If you head over to the discount section on Money Saving Expert you can literally download hundreds of different printable vouchers from restaurants to shopping.

At first the vouchers were either PDF or JPEGs that just circulated around via email. Many had a space to fill in your details such as name, age but you never had to fill them out to use them (or they just weren’t enforced properly). Often you don’t even have to hand the voucher to staff, simply display it.

Now it seems these companies have realised that they could be capturing the information of thousands of consumers. This means that store and restaurant websites are requesting some information before allowing to download vouchers such as name, age and email address, some are making it compulsory to sign up to newsletters or become website members. This allows the company to keep the customer updated on new offers, products and news.

A couple of things to note about these printed vouchers is that they almost always contain no unique numbers or barcodes. After asking a few stores about the process, they simply said that staff are told the length of the offer, the button to press on the cash register to apply the discount and to put the store receipt in a separate pile to be counted later. How old school is that process! We are talking about massive chains like Gap here. This is perfect for mobile.

So What About Mobile?

So lets look at the advantages at using mobile. The first and most obvious one to me is saving the environment.

Millions of these vouchers are being printed out just for the sake of being displayed at point of sale. Lets face it, that’s a massive waste of paper. I sometimes print the same voucher multiple times because I’ve lost it or left it at home when I’m at work.

I guarantee the first company to go mobile with these vouchers and angle them as better for the environment will immediately start the migration of these things to mobile….because what business wants to be seen as damaging the environment these days?

The next benefit is convenience. I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve forgotten or misplaced a printed voucher when I’m out shopping. This results in me not going into that store because it feels like a waste of money paying full price knowing there is a voucher available. The store loses business and I don’t get my shopping. I would prefer to just show my phone screen than printing something out and remembering to take it.

The simple solution would be to use SMS for this. Text in to a shortcode to get a SMS voucher pinged back to your handset that you show at checkout. No unique codes, no barcodes, no special POS equipment or set up and no fuss, just like redeeming printed vouchers. You could even send the address and distance of the nearest store along with the voucher.

If data capture is required then information could be requested via SMS before the voucher is delivered. Another benefit is that future offers can be sent straight to the customers phone (with a opt-out of course), maybe even special discounts for mobile users to add incentive.

You could also use MMS using some nice graphics however you increase the risk of the user not having the settings or a compatible handset as well as a increase in messaging costs for the company.

WAP is the cheapest solution costing next to nothing, just simply host the voucher image, you can even create a sign up form before displaying.


Many vouchers are successful because they are passed on between friends and colleagues. Mobile is perfect for viral marketing and is far more actionable than a email or download.

There are some basic issues, one is cost. The price of allowing users to download vouchers and print them is zero, whereas sending a SMS would cost around £3200 for 100,000 messages. However apart from the SMS message costs it is actually a fairly simple and cheap to set up a ongoing campaign. Think about how quickly a company like Gap would make back the £8000 spent on allowing the whole of the UK to use SMS vouchers as simply as printed ones. Again, using WAP would make this cost next to zero.

Another issue is that many agencies and 3rd parties won’t suggest a simple text voucher like this because there is little profit margin. This is because all the money is in the licensing fees of 3rd party ‘patented solutions’, sadly that always involves some sort of download for the user before they can start redeeming vouchers which instantly cuts the actual amount of people that would use it. The 3rd parties need their software to add value into this scenario otherwise there is absolutely no need for them.

Lets remember you don’t need to download any apps to print a voucher online so why do it on mobile? I can understand you get better redemption tracking etc but at what cost? You lose a massive proportion of users plus spend more on licensing. Why try and run before you can walk? Lets just mimic what shoppers are doing right now with a piece of paper and use SMS instead.

These are the sort of trends brands and agencies should be jumping on to start introducing the behaviour of redeeming mobile coupons to consumers. Rather than expect consumers to download apps or get their heads around QR codes there is a opportunity to slowly teach mobile redemption to the masses. It really doesn’t need a complicated solution at this present time.

Once this marinates in consumers minds then you can start becoming more innovative using location, QR codes and apps like Cellfire.

Hopefully we will see ‘Click to print’ buttons for vouchers turn into ‘Send to mobile’ soon.