Days of redemption for an industry on the make

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 June, 2012, 12:00am

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Hong Kong's coupon-cutting culture begins with housewives such as Lydia Mak.

Mak religiously buys the Oriental Daily every day - for the coupons. She skims the pages for bargains and deals, then organises the finds in her wallet.

Mak, a stay-at-home housewife and mother of 10-year-old Melody, runs a tight family budget, and it starts with coupons.

She's a fan of Maxim's HK$3.50 coupons, since her family enjoys dining out at Maxim's. She also likes the HK$50 to HK$100 cash coupons from ParknShop, which her friends sometimes give her.

'No matter how much or little I buy, I can always use them,' says Mak, who regularly cooks at home and prepares lunch boxes for Melody.

She also cuts out McDonald's coupons from the newspaper for the occasional treat for her daughter. Mak estimates that she saves about HK$500 a month through her efforts.

Doreen Wong, a housewife, says she compares the price of an item with a coupon to the price without.

'I check whether it is worth paying the extra money with the coupon. I'm looking for good-quality products,' says Wong.

Hongkongers are cost-conscious. They like their bargains. Retailers try to grab the attention of deal-seekers with coupons, often in the form of loyalty programmes.

Gourmet supermarket City'super offers an e-card programme in which shoppers receive a bonus point for each dollar spent. For example, a shopper who collects 25,000 points earns an e-coupon valued at HK$500.

'The more you spend, the more you get,' its website says.

McDonald's McCafe offers a small book of stamps; eight beverages gets you the ninth free.

But the ground is shifting for the coupon industry. The biggest bargains are to be found online through dedicated deal sites such as Groupon. The deals are more enticing and the savings larger. The ability to find a deal online and immediately snap it up using a credit card feeds into impulse-shopping urges. 'There is a huge offline culture of getting discounts ... [but] as an online business we can do much more with the technology to deliver better deals conveniently,' says Krzysztof Marszalek, chief executive of beecrazy.com.

The home-grown Groupon clone's sales rose fourfold last year. The site recently sold 1,187 buffet meals at the Marriott for HK$298 each in 24 hours.

Last month, it launched the beecrazy mall, which aims to become the online equivalent of Harbour City. The company says its users have saved HK$640 million since July 2010, redeeming more than two million vouchers.

So what does that mean for the old-style print coupons? Put simply, Hong Kong's coupon-clipping days are numbered. In their place is something different: tokens that can be redeemed for trinkets.

For example, the grocery chain Wellcome gives shoppers 'Happy Stamps', which can used to buy items such as the 'Peter Rabbit porcelain dinnerware collection'.

McDonald's and 7-Eleven give shoppers stamps, not as a discount on the bill but to buy a collectable item at a discount.

Winnie Chan, 21, is a diehard Hello Kitty fan who has been collecting stamps since she was a secondary student. She regularly spends HK$20 at the 7-Eleven so she can collect stamps that can be traded at the store for toy figures. Chan has more than 30 such figures.

Coupons have changed. They have become better-looking. Each design is different. The tokens are clearly designed to be collectable.

At one time paper coupons were used to tap into Hongkongers' desire to save money. Now they are homing in on other impulses - collecting and hoarding - and the people seem to like it.

What's the deal?

Check out the following sites for offers, discounts and schemes

Bee Crazy (beecrazy.hk)

Groupon (groupon.hk)

ParknShop (parknshop.com)

Wellcome (wellcome.com.hk)

City'super (citysuper.com.hk)

OpenRice (openrice.com)

Maxim's (maxims.com.hk)