Emaginet Launches Personalized Web Coupons

Emaginet, Bethesda, MD, last week launched e-centives, an online digital couponing and promotions product that will give retailers the ability to offer personalized savings opportunities to consumers. The launch comes five months later than expected.

E-centives, which allows retailers to identify qualified consumers over the Internet and electronically deliver targeted offers based on their profiles and shopping interests, was set to launch in June. According to Dadi Akhavan, executive vice president and co-founder of Emaginet, testing of the product found consumers “liked the concept,” but the company created its own speed bump by requiring them to download a piece of software in order to use it.

“The numbers were great on those who liked the idea,” he said. “But they started dropping when asked to download the software. We made the change to a totally Web-based product, making it more convenient and simple to use.

“People want things to be simple and easy to follow,” he said. “These are the lessons you learn on the Web.”

Akhavan said Emaginet was financially prepared for the setback; since they were experimenting with different operational methods for the system, making the change to a Web-based product didn't cause a panic within the company.

In order for consumers to receive offers from participating retailers, they must first fill out a profile questionnaire at www.e-centives.com. A personalized account is also established when consumers register for the service.

There are more than 60 online and offline merchants providing offers for consumers through the e-centives program including eToys, Music Boulevard, Tower Records, Flowers USA, MicroWarehouse, SkyMall and Sony/Loews Theaters.

The offers can be redeemed online or printed out and used at retail locations. Coupons can be picked up at participating merchants, affiliate sites or delivered directly into the member's e-centives account where they can be stored or used right away.

“We saw the growth that was taking place on the Web and in online retailing,” Akhavan said. “We wanted to take advantage of that by offering coupons for online retailers, but at the same time we wanted to give consumers the ability to redeem these coupons at offline locations as well.”

E-centives gives consumers five categories to choose from including computers, leisure, travel, lifestyle and automotive. After choosing a category, all participating retailers within that section are notified that a consumer is interested in receiving an offer. Coupon offers are then sent to the member's account by the merchant.

According to Akhavan, immediate offers will soon be available at the site.

“Right now there are only a few offers that will appear as soon as a consumer clicks on a category,” he said.

By the end of 1999 Akhavan said he hopes to have 1 million members taking part in the program along with several hundred more merchants providing them with coupon offers and savings. For joining the e-centives program consumers will receive a welcome pack containing more than $2,000 in savings.

E-centives also provides the capability for merchants to produce and launch as many marketing campaigns as they want, plus the ability to manage and measure those campaigns right from their desktops.

The change in format wasn't the only issue that Emaginet had to deal with in launching e-centives. Last month, online coupon company CoolSavings (www.coolsavings.com), Chicago, which has been providing consumers with online coupons since its launch in March 1997, filed a patent infringement lawsuit in Federal District Court in Chicago against Emaginet. The law suit claims that “Emaginet offered consumer and advertiser services that infringe on the CoolSavings patent for distributing printed and electronic coupons through the Internet.”

“We have looked at our technology and their patent, and believe that we are in no way infringing upon their patent,” said Akhavan in response to the lawsuit filed by CoolSavings. “We wanted to launch in time for the holidays so even with the lawsuit we went ahead and conducted business as usual.”

He said Emaginet has also filed a counter suit but would not reveal on what grounds. He feels the lawsuit filed by CoolSavings is nothing more than a marketing ploy and an attempt to catch up with the e-centives technology.

“They recognize that we are the technological leaders in this field,” he said.

Steven Golden, CEO of CoolSavings, did not return calls for comment.

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