A year ago I would have said, “Shop online? Not with my credit card!” I admit, I don't think of online buying often, but when I wanted to send flowers to my hubby for our anniversary (15 years!), I decided to give it a try.

Ecoupons?

I found the florist's sites and balked at the expense. So I “shopped” around and guess what? I found ebates.com. It read, “Get cash back now and then,” which I didn't get, but perhaps I'm just technologically challenged! The site had 450 or so “stores” stocking all kinds of items. The site was easy to use and made me feel I could do anything. I liked the idea of an online coupon, so I bought my flowers and got a 20% ebate. This started me thinking about coupons in general.

About coupons

The very first coupon was issued by Asa Candler in 1894. A druggist by trade, he purchased the secret formula to make Coca Cola and was anxious to see what people thought. He wrote the coupons himself. They entitled a customer to a free glass of Coke.

With the onset of the Great Depression, coupons might make the difference between affording meat or doing without it. Coupons were becoming a great way to introduce new products into an economy where there was little left over for things that weren't necessities.

Supermarkets embraced coupons, giving consumers savings from the added buying power of multiple stores. In 1957, the Neilsen Clearinghouse opened to handle the volume of coupons clipped, redeemed and totaled with the store's other coupons. Then they issued checks to the retailer.

In 1998, 280 billion coupons were distributed with a savings of $3.6 billion to clipping consumers. Consumers want more for their money and are more than willing to take the extra time to clip (or like me with the flowers, surf) to save.

Many people say coupons don't work or are on the way out. But are they? Or are they simply evolving to appear again with a new “face” in the store of the future?

GlobalShop 2001

At last year's show, attendees came in droves to see new multimedia technologies, touch screens, body scanners, high tech kiosks, biometrics identification units, and advanced gizmos and gadgets.

At this year's Store of the Future (see Retail Design Trends), organizers say attendees of all walks can peruse seven assorted retail “fantasy stores” such as high fashion apparel, jewelry, shoes, home/garden and collectibles.

Their goal was to create a shopping space combining the outer high tech world and the indoor retail environment. They plan on stretching the barriers of retail by eliminating the need for sales associates.

I can't wait to see their version of futuristic coupons.