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Google is set to open a new front in the battle to attract more local businesses online with the launch of a service that lets customers print out discount coupons at home that they can then use in local stores.
Available initially only in the US, the service is aimed at the millions of Americans who regularly trawl for bargains among the fliers delivered with their local papers or in the packs of coupons that arrive in their mailboxes.
The search engine company said businesses would be able to offer coupons on its Google Maps service at no charge, and that advertisers who use its AdWords system will be able to pay to display a link to a coupon as part of their adverts.
Discount coupons which people print at home and them redeem in stores could represent an answer to some of the fundamental problems with online advertising in general, and search engine advertising in particular, said Greg Sterling, of Sterling Market Intelligence.
Many consumers research online before going to a store to make their purchases, making it difficult for merchants to assess the impact of their online advertising and promotions. Also, concerns about “click fraud” and other problems with measuring the behaviour of consumers who click on the adverts returned to them by search engines have raised questions over click-based advertising methods, though their use continues to grow rapidly.
Coupons, by contrast, could create a direct link between a consumer’s online behaviour and a final purchase, making them a powerful tool for local businesses, said Mr Sterling.
Google said it would make a large number of online coupons available immediately from Valpak, a company that has long distributed packages of coupons in paper form in the US. Businesses could create their own coupons free of charge by visiting the Local Business Center, a location on Google Maps created to let businesses enter their information and make it searchable on the local maps service.