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Businesses may be tiring of services like Groupon, and overaggressive retailers may have bargained themselves into a less profitable holiday shopping season, but one thing is for sure: consumers love discounts.

Who can blame them? The global economy nearly collapsed in 2008, and it's been tough since then. Companies eager to separate consumers from their hard-earned dollars have often had little choice but to lure customers in with prices too hard to pass up.

But what does the future of discounts look like? If the amount of discounting seen in the past several years is bordering on the unsustainable, but consumers often hesitate without a deal, what can businesses do?

Increasingly, it looks like the future of discounting may be mobile.

An example of this: earlier this month, Juniper Research released a report predicting that mobile coupon redemption rates would hit 8% by 2016, which would approach the redemption rates typically seen with internet, print-at-home coupons. The expected value of these mobile redemptions: a whopping $43bn globally.

There are a few reasons why mobile discounting may make the most sense for many businesses:

  • Traditionally, the biggest distribution channel for coupons has been print and print inserts. This channel isn't going away, but for obvious reasons, most companies will have to look beyond print if they want to reach the widest number of consumers, and, more importantly, the most desirable consumers. That should benefit the mobile channel as budgets shift.
  • The potential to target is much greater. From current location to customer status, businesses no longer have to take a one-size-fits-all approach to discounting. Instead, deals can be targeted on a multidimensional level.
  • Mobile is really 'push'. A mobile is the one device you can count on your customer carrying at all times, and it's the perfect device through which discounts can be distributed. For obvious reasons, businesses need to be careful and thoughtful here, but the potential to make an impact is so much greater because the business can push the message as opposed to having to wait for the potential customer to take the initiative.
  • Real-time, needs-driven discounting. This is perhaps the most important opportunity mobile discounting offers. Instead of having to offer deals that last day or even weeks or months, mobile can facilitate real-time, needs-driven deals. If a bakery, for instance, has excess perishable inventory, it may need to move fast. In theory, it can via mobile, bringing customers in the door when it needs them most, and not having to always discount when non-discount-driven business is strongest.

Despite all of the above, there are challenges that will need to be addressed. Companies will need to acquire mobile technologies that enable their mobile discounting dreams to become reality, and they'll need to build mobile relationships with their customers. For most businesses, there are more questions than answers in these areas, but that should change in the coming years.

Patricio Robles

Published 20 January, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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