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Catalina acquires Cellfire in bet that retailers’ apps will drive digital coupons

September 8, 2014

catalina 1Catalina has reached an agreement to acquire digital couponing company Cellfire, in a reflection of how quickly load-to-card offers have grown.

Cellfire delivers millions of digital coupons each week that are used in more than 22,000 stores nationwide by consumers who click to load an offer onto their loyalty card or mobile ID that can be automatically redeemed when a purchase is made. Load-to-card solutions are relatively new but have quickly gained on print-at-home digital coupons as well as third-party couponing applications.

“[Cellfire is] the largest click to card provider for CPG and we are the largest in-store couponing solution so, you put the two together, and it’s a true omnichannel capability for retailers and brands and starts integrating mobile more with the rest of the marketing mix as opposed to treating it as its own separate thing,” said Todd Morris, president of U.S. business at Catalina.

“Click-to-card is almost as big as print-at-home today and it is much newer,” he said. “I think we are at what you could call a hockey stick moment where all of the analysts are predicting high double digit growth in load-to-card while print-at-home is declining at about 10 percent a year.”

In-store coupons
Catalina is a long-time force in in-store couponing. The company has been working to build its digital and mobile prowess over several years, offering targeted load-to-card offers with a few retailers.

The deal to acquire Cellfire will quickly catapult it to a more prominent position. The deal will greatly expand the amount of content Catalina will offer retailers via untargeted coupons available through a retailer’s mobile app.

It also gives Catalina access to 22,000 retail stores already working with Cellfire for digital couponing solutions.

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Retailers’ mobile apps
Catalina believes retailers’ mobile apps will be an increasingly important way for consumers to access digital coupons.

“The biggest access point is inside retailers’ apps and Web sites,” Mr. Morris said. “That is where consumers are dominantly going to find these types of savings, that is where the bulk of the traffic is.

“Our view, is by powering our retailers’ apps and consumers solutions, that retailer brand is what is really going to drive the consumer use and adoption and ultimately build loyalty for that retailer.”

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CPG brands
Cellfire also brings with its relationships with many leading CPG brands.

“Cellfire’s two largest partners are Procter & Gamble and General Mills and they program across their whole portfolio of bands,” Mr. Morris said. “I believe the reason why it is so appealing for CPGs, is it reaches the mobile consumers, it is measurable, meaning you know who is getting the discount, as opposed to a printed coupon you can’t track who is using it, and it is pretty clean from a fraud standpoint.”

Consumer experience
For consumers, the experience typically entails going to a retailer’s mobile app, tapping on the offers or coupons button, browsing through the offers and selecting those of interest to load to an offer wallet.

Customers must first have their loyalty card registered with a retailer’s app or have created a mobile ID. If the offers have been loaded onto a loyalty card, the card is swiped at checkout to redeem them. With a mobile ID, shoppers input their mobile phone number at checkout for offers to be automatically redeemed.

Retailers can choose to also enable alerts that remind shoppers when they walk into a store that they have offers available.

Last year, there were  1 billion load-to-card clicks and 1.27 billion print-at-home prints, according to a report from Inmar.

Much of the growth in load-to-card is being driven by mobile, with 77 percent of Cellfire’s loads coming from mobile devices.

In addition to load-to-card and print-at-home digital couponing options, there are also a growing number of mobile couponing apps.

“What is unique about Cellfire is that they have the largest content pool and the largest retailer pool,” Mr. Morris said.

“I think there will continue to be innovation in mobile apps,” he said. “I think the question will be , what gets to critical mass, and so far the only thing that really has is load-to-card offers.

“I love technology out there that has gamification or shopping list capabilities but consumer adoption has just not taken off on those capabilities.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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