How to Offer Coupons to Your Customers on Mobile PhonesAn estimated 91% of Americans have a mobile phone — and an estimated 100% of them like a good deal. So it’s natural that delivering discount coupons through mobile phones is growing fast, with the dollar value expected to rise sevenfold by 2014.

The concept is simple: Receive a text message or an image of a coupon on the phone, go into the store and show the phone screen. With the popularity of smartphones such as the iPhone and Androids, there are more ways than ever to deliver coupons. Mobile coupons are attention-grabbing, immediate, targetable, measurable and relatively cheap for small local businesses to try.

You have two main options to distribute mobile coupons:

Text Messaging

Customers don’t need a fancy smartphone to receive a text message. And it’s a good way to build your customer list, by getting your customers’ email addresses and cell phone numbers. To get going, follow these steps:

  • Contract with a text messaging vendor. These companies will distribute your message across all the cell phone carriers and provide you with the “short codes,” the numbers or letters you see in text messages, such as, “To get your free piece of cake, text CAKE to 31965.” The fees may be as low as 5 cents per message. You can search for vendors through the Direct Marketing Association .
  • Collect phone numbers. To make it legal, your customers have to “opt in” or volunteer their phone numbers. They might see your offer in an ad and text a response or enter their number in a form on your website to receive your text. Or you might ask a customer for his or her cell number at the register.
  • Compose your offer and reply messages. The limit is 160 characters. The Mobile Marketing Association recommends that you add “msg&data rates may apply” to remind folks that they pay for messaging; mention restrictions (“good til 5 p.m.”); and spell out the conditions for free offers (“good for one free 12 oz. drink, max value not to exceed $2”).
  • Measure your campaign. Your vendor should supply you with the data on the texting traffic for your message. You can record the redemptions at your place of business with your POS system.

Smart Phones

Instead of building your own customer list, you can put your coupons on these mobile apps for smartphones and distribute your offers to their subscriber lists.

  • Coupon apps pick up the smartphone’s location and display coupons for nearby stores. Vendors include Yowza and Coupon Sherpa, as well as some familiar names from the mail coupon days such as Money Mailer. On Yowza, merchants can run three coupons for $59 a month. Coupon creation is self-serve for merchants, using Yowza’s website. You can change the offers on your three coupons as often as you like. Users tap the coupon on the phone screen to redeem it, so Yowza can track the redemptions for you.
  • Directory apps such as Dex Mobile create a smartphone version of your paid listing on directory websites such as The company carries over any coupons you are offering on your web directory listing page. As with the other deals, customers show the screen to redeem.
  • Social apps such as Foursquare or Facebook let users tap their smartphone screens to “check in” when they visit your business, alerting their friends or racking up points toward badges. Merchants can register with the site to claim their listing and use free, self-service tools to offer coupons. An offer might be “Check in to get 10% off,” with the customer showing the phone screen to get the deal.
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