Paper coupons in the newspaper have been around for years but there has been a resurgence in usage. Redemption of paper coupons sent into the home are up nearly 20%. At the same time, internet delivered coupon usage is skyrocketing. Google searches for the terms "printable coupons" and "online printable coupons" grew 186% and 178% respectively during the year, while Yahoo said "coupons" ranked first on its list of economy-related search queries. Cell phone delivered coupons are also rapidly being accepted via bar code scanners.
Internet Coupons are the fastest-growing segment of the coupon industry - their usage increased to about 50 million coupons in 2009. Coupons that link Internet behavior with your in-store habits lets stores figure out the best promotions. That's why major companies are investing in new technology to track your behavior.
The Key: Individual Tracking. When you redeem a coupon in a mass delivered publication such as a local newspaper the store can track minimal data on the coupon, when where, how many etc. If there is a magazine or other standalone publication sent to you, each coupon has tracking technology built in to alert the retailer that YOU specifically cut out and used the coupon.
The most intrusive type of coupon is the internet coupon or printable/downloadable ones. Most companies that are marketing to you want to know a lot about you before during and after visiting a site and even printing a coupon. They can determine what competing sites you visited before printing the coupon, or after, what type of merchandise you are seeking and they also can profile you. (Getting around this tracking ability is for another article)
The New York Times just did a consumer story on exactly how technology can invade your privacy when net-couponing. The technology mentioned is so refined now that retailers can micro target.
Example of Micro Targeting: The ability for a retailer to send you a catalog that has different prices than the same catalog your neighbor gets. Retailers see it two ways: If you are always on their web site getting coupons or printing coupons from partner sites, they feel you are an engaged customer. Sometimes you will get a catalog with lower pricing to increase the number of items you buy. Other times you will get a catalog with higher prices (than your neighbor) because the retailer feels you are hooked on their brand. So... buyer beware holds out even in the internet age.