SnipSnap: How a Newspaper Vet Aims to Remake Paper Coupons For the Mobile Era

It all started with a pack of diapers. Ted Mann, then a regional digital director for Gannett and a new dad, was waiting in line to pay for diapers when he realized he hadn't brought the coupons. Like so many coupons clipped from the local paper, they sat in what Mann refers to as the "bowl of shame" - that repository of unclaimed discounts that so many households know all too well. Mann knew there had to be a digital solution to this classic, analog problem.

He started by using his iPhone's camera app to take pictures of coupons he and his wife found in the paper. As crude as it was, this approach worked. When other customers started asking what app he was using, Mann knew he was onto something.

In August 2011, he quit his day job managing digital operations for six newspapers in southern New Jersey to launch SnipSnap, a mobile app that helps consumers drag paper-based coupons into the 21st century by scanning and organizing them. 

Just how widely used are paper coupons? With print media in decline and the rapid rise of mobile commerce, you'd think that traditional coupons would be headed toward extinction. But they're not. 

Last year, about 3.5 billion coupons were redeemed by consumers, according to research conducted by collaborative commerce firm Inmar. After a few years of declining, the number of overall coupon redemptions starting increasing again in 2006. It has climbed 34.6% since then. 

From Print to Pixels: Coupons Evolve into the 21st Century 

It was in his role at Gannett that Mann first became interested in coupons and how they could be adapted for our new, digital world. 

"I wasn’t all that thrilled with the existing apps," Mann says. "One day I started to wonder: What if I could just take a picture of one of the printed coupons I have?"

That's precisely what SnipSnap does, but with some handy bells and whistles tacked on. It doesn't just take a photo of each coupon, but rather picks out and properly digitizes pertinent details, such as the face value, expiration date, barcode and name of the store. The app notifies you when a coupon is about to expire and reminds you about it when you're near the store.

Mann enlisted iOS developer Kostas Nasis as the company's CTO and mobile designer Kyle Martin as VP of Product. The trio were brought on by DreamIt Ventures startup accelerator program and then went on to Project Liberty, a startup incubator launched early this year by the parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

After a successful soft launch that included a stint as one of Apple's featured apps, SnipSnap was demonstrated at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York last week. 

The app's user base has continued to blow up. "We have phenomenal amounts of structured coupon data, redemption data, coupon clipping data and location data," says Mann. "We’re now focused on putting all that data to work."

Other plans for the immediate future include reponding to feature requests and building in more social features, so users can more easily share coupons with friends and family. They're also beginning to forge a business model by selling paid coupon placements to big-name brands. The first such arrangement, with clothing retailer Aeropostale, just went live during the weekend.

SnipSnap is currently available for iOS, but an Android version is in the works for later this summer. 

Lead photo by MissMessie.