I was talking to someone today about customer loyalty programs and coupons. In this case, corporate was planning on pushing out 24,000 coupons to registered customers. The plan is to have an online coupon activation where each customer is given a unique customer ID. To protect against customers generating coupons, each coupon will be validated for a particular customer ID and paired email address. Immediately I thought, “hey, they’re giving out coupons without actually giving them out.” Save paper, save time. It seemed like a great idea to me.

Then as the conversation continued, I realized that this wasn’t their intention (they weren’t too concerned with digital coupons for the sake of not using paper — they just wanted a cheap way to distribute coupons to registered customers without worrying too much about coupon generation or actually physically mailing coupons). This is a small fast-food company we’re talking about, by the way. I saw great potential but also a huge issue. Today, the last thing most people want is to memorize another username and password, another customer ID. The idea is great, but having customers remember their customer ID seems quite unfriendly.

What if there existed a web-based service where users could create an account. Businesses could then offer a digital version of their coupons that could be credited to a user account. Like checking in with “Places” when you leave your home, you could “check in” at the in-store register with your coupon profile. If you have a coupon credited to you by the store you’re shopping in, this coupon can be “used”. You get the discount or promotion and the web service destroys the coupon. Just like using a coupon from the mail, minus the physical coupon. The upside to this service is that businesses would hopefully adopt and support the use of this service, so one account will hold a shopper’s coupons for many stores.

No need to memorize customer IDs, no need to tote many coupons around and clean up after expiration dates, no need for membership cards. Just remember one username and password, or even link the service to your Facebook, Twitter, etc (obviously more privacy issues will ensue, then).

Is this already being done? Am I out of the loop?