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Case Western University bookstore uses mobile rebates for graduation sales

August 18, 2009

caseCleveland’s Case Western University’s bookstore is running a Barcode Bucks! mobile rebates effort to generate sales of diploma frames and sweatshirts just in time for graduation.

Run by bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc., the bookstore lets students collect up to $50 in rebates on those two items that are popular around graduation time. Students can collect rebates using their mobile phone’s camera to scan 2D codes appearing in ads in the student newspaper and on campus posters and flyers.

“It’s a little different user experience than the SMS [coupon],” said David Miller, founder/CEO of Mobile Discovery, the Reston, VA-based firm whose technology supports this mobile couponing effort.

“The SMS is a push experience,” he said. “With this piece it’s a little different. It’s a complete opt-in scenario and it’s a completely new way for brands and advertisers to engage with the audience.”

Once the students — even Case Western faculty and staff — scan the 2D bar codes appearing in various print media, they can redeem the rebates with their mobile phones at the bookstore.

Mobile Discovery’s CodeIntelligence platform manages rebate distribution and redemption for this exercise.

The company is working with coupon processor Inmar Inc. to use its Conexions digital promotions settlement platform to offer payment through digital funds or physical check to the students.

“What Inmar offers to mobile coupons and rebates is really the financial transaction settlement on the backend,” said Matthew Tilley, director of marketing at the CMS division of Inmar, Winston-Salem, NC. “You need that piece to make it work.”

The mobile rebates are good for a range of diploma frames and sweatshirts sold in the varsity bookstore, including brands such as Champion.

“We work in conjunction with the retailer in what they thought would be popular,” Mr. Miller said. “At graduation time, the diploma frame becomes quite handy as a gift or purchase for self.”

The same logic applies to sweatshirts.

Case Western’s graduation ceremony is planned for Sunday, May 18.

Code calling
Mobile Discovery has run a series of 2D bar code efforts at Case Western during this spring semester.

One promotion was with shopping channel QVC called Make It or Break It. Students were asked to scan codes and then enter a sweepstakes to win a variety of prizes including QVC products.

Another promotion, with the USA Today newspaper, was a trial to get students to sign up for the publication’s text message service or email alerts.

And then there was the push for news wire and financial information giant Thomson Reuters, whose goal was to drive traffic to its mobile Internet site using 2D bar code scans.

The 2D bar codes are also used as an information tool on campus bus stops to alert students when the next bus is due.

“The original case was to make Case Western look like downtown Tokyo, where [bar code] coupons have become a part of everyday life,” Mr. Miller said.

“The folks at the bookstore were aware of the campus-wide trial that Mobile Discovery has been heading this whole semester, so they were very open to the opportunity to work with us to drive traffic during this graduation season,” he said.

“The goal really is two-fold. No. 1 is obviously to drive traffic into the store, but as importantly, the other goal is to prove out a model that we can replicate in the future and also integrate the capabilities of Mobile Discovery and Inmar.”

Coupon clicking
Founded a year ago, Mobile Discovery’s flagship CodeIntelligence code management platform is designed to offer advertisers a self-service Web portal for managing a cross-carrier 2D code marketing campaign.

Tracking, which is a big issue for mobile coupons and rebates, is a strong suit of its platform, according to Mobile Discovery.

“The ability to track and analyze the results of campaigns is one of the most powerful uses of this technology,” Mr. Miller said.

“Our platform allows the brand or the retailer to understand the ad from which the coupon was captured and that can be specific to a particular publication as well as the specific retail outlet at which the coupon is being redeemed,” he said.

Equally important to mobile coupons and rebates is the processing technology that settles the transactions.

Inmar’s CMS and Carolina Services subsidiaries make the combination the nation’s leading provider of promotions logistics and settlement services. These firms manage consumer promotions for more than 700 consumer packaged goods makers and 350 retailers.

To put it into perspective, Inmar processes 3.5 billion-plus transactions a year, including more than half of the 2.6 billion paper coupons generated nationwide.

“We also know that a big part of the future of promotions would be mobile coupons and rebates and we want to enable those kinds of promotions for our brands,” Mr. Tilley said.

“But in the consumer packaged goods sector there are significant issues with transaction settlement — retailers need to be paid, manufacturers need to make sure transactions are accounted for,” he said.

“This [Case Western] test allows us to prove out that you can have a real cutting-edge experience on the handset and at the same time, you can have the financial transaction taken care of and it’s tracked.”

While the number seems high, Britain’s Juniper Research estimates that mobile couponing will generate $7 billion in promotional redemptions worldwide by 2011. This is more than double the size of the current grocery coupons market.

That jump will no doubt rely on consumers as they adopt mobile bar code or image scanning and move from coupon clipping to coupon clicking. Companies such as Mobile Discovery and rivals Scanbuy, NeoMedia Technologies and SnapTell full understand the trend.

“This is the only option for marketing to the millennial generation,” Mobile Discovery’s Mr. Miller said. “Because studies have shown they have fully embraced the digital lifestyle.”

Please click here for a video highlighting this effort.

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Mickey Alam Khan is editor in chief of Mobile Commerce Daily, Mobile Marketer and Luxury Daily. Reach him at

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