Eighteen months. That’s how long Steven Boal says it will be before digital methods of engaging with shoppers replace the familiar print promotional vehicle known as the free-standing insert (FSI).
If he’s right, the retail world and consumers are in for a big change — one that’s been a long time coming, as Boal can attest. In 1998, at the dawn of the internet age, he founded Coupons.com with the intent of disrupting the world of retail promotions, but the transformative change happened more slowly than he expected. Today, Boal is chairman and CEO of Mountain View, Calif.-based Quotient Technology, created when Coupons.com rebranded in 2015 to reflect the firm’s expanded offering of promotional solutions, which goes beyond the digitization of coupons.
- According to Steven Boal, chairman and CEO of Quotient Technology (formerly Coupons.com), the days of printed promotional vehicles are numbered.
- This shift toward digital promotions, already underway, was sped along by COVID-19.
- Boal believes that mixed-mode shopping will become the new normal.
“I was early with a capital E and an exclamation point,” Boal says of his initial plans to disrupt the world of print coupons. “In 1998, when I founded the company, I actually expected, watching the way media consumption was changing — remember, this was pre-smartphone and it was the Wild West out here in California — that about 20% of the physical coupons delivered in newspapers would transfer to digital. I was surprised, and continue to be surprised, at how long it took for that to happen. Instead of it taking the original five years that I expected, it took 20 years for 20% to shift.”
The key drive of the shift was the decline of Sunday newspaper circulation, which today is less than half of what it was at its peak of around 62 million in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, digital methods of consuming information continue to gain traction.
“I’m a strong believer that a free, independent press is a cornerstone of democracy, but the printed newspaper is probably on its last leg, sadly,” Boal says, “and the printed coupon will be gone in 18 months.”
Of course, it’s possible that Boal is early in his prediction, as he was before, or even wrong. But the latter seems unlikely, given digital trends overall and the fact that Boal now has a clear view into the world of CPG marketing. Quotient works with some of the biggest names in retail and more than 700 consumer goods companies. That means Boal is in a position to see change coming in how advertising budgets are being allocated and how shopper behavior is changing as a result of COVID-19.
“The thing that will likely surprise me the most over the next two years is how quickly this entire industry goes from being a laggard to an innovator,” Boal says.
Quotient, along with other digital marketing solution providers, is doing its part to accelerate the demise of print promotional vehicles. The company is among those offering marketers a better mousetrap to engage with shoppers in a highly precise, measurable and impactful way. One recent example involved the company’s decision in May to work with Birmingham, Ala.-based grocery delivery provider Shipt, owned by Target Corp. The arrangement makes coupons from companies such as Bayer HealthCare, Kimberly-Clark, Colgate-Palmolive, and Johnson & Johnson available through the Shipt website and app for the first time.
Customers select their preferred retailer, and then discover coupons as they browse the items they need, and coupons also appear for applicable items on product pages. Once selected, coupons are redeemed when items are purchased and delivered by a Shipt Shopper. Customers can also virtually clip coupons in the app’s savings tab to be redeemed later at checkout
The COVID-19 Effect
But winning long-term also means retailers will have to redesign store spaces that are currently optimized for physical shopping, not the fulfillment of digital orders. “The innovative retailers are thinking about how to design stores for partial warehousing and partial discovery,” he adds. “There’s actually some technological innovation and some process innovation coming that is pretty exciting.”