MAGIC COUPON MACHINES

You could call them “coupon junkies.” They’re the folks who mutilate newspapers, magazines and cereal box tops in a never-ending search for bargains. Well, a company in Arlington has just made life a little easier- or less challenging – for these folks. Electronic Advertising Network (EAN) has developed the electronic coupon-dispensing machine, a computer that produces coupons at the logical place: the point of sale.

EAN has been testing the computers in 30 area Safeway stores since October 1982. The use of the machine is simple: A customer simply inserts any credit card into the computer (since a magnetic stripe is needed to activate the machine) and different coupons will appear on screens at the terminal. The customer then keys in which items he wants to buy, and within three seconds, the coupons appear.

Chester Lemon, chairman of EAN, says his company began working on the idea six years ago, when he realized the low percentage of coupon redemption (about 119 billion coupons were distributed last year; between 3 to 5 percent were redeemed) and the high cost of coupon fraud, which is estimated to cost millions of dollars annually.

Lemon says the response has been favorable so far, and by October, he hopes to have computers installed in possibly as many as 240 grocery stores in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area. EAN is one of the first companies to offer this service. According to Lemon, the company plans to market the coupon system heavily in several cities across the country. A company goal, he says, is to have the system functioning in at least five major cities within a year.

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