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FORGET YOUR COUPONS? SMITH'S IS DEBUTING IN-STORE DISPENSER

Ever gone to the grocery store and forgot your coupons?

ActMedia Inc., Norwalk, Conn., has a partial answer to the problem with some coupon dispensing machines hooked to grocery store shelves so customers can get a coupon, pick out the accompanying product and obtain an immediate discount at the cash register.The instant coupon machines have made their debut in 23 Smith's Food Kings, mostly along the Wasatch Front, according to Shelley Thomas, spokeswoman for the supermarket chain.

Each store will have several instant coupon machines in various locations capable of dispensing 500 coupons without reloading. Use of the machine is sold on a category exclusive basis, which means that only one coffee brand or one mayonnaise brand can use it during a four-week cycle.

ActMedia officials believe the machines will eliminate the cumbersome task of sorting through numerous newspaper inserts, keeping track of expiration dates and filing coupons.

Virginia Cargill, ActMedia's senior vice president for marketing, said the machine delivers the coupon at the shelf where most shoppers make their purchase decisions. "That means coupon savings will be available to every shopper, not just the 20 percent who scan newspaper inserts and direct mail packages," she said.

She said 20 percent of the shoppers redeem 80 percent of the coupons. The new machines will help people become aware of the savings coupons offer, Cargill said.

In the last few years, ActMedia officials claim, coupon redemption has declined. On average, they said, only 30 out of 1,000 coupons printed are used, but tests with the coupon machines show the redemption rates are seven to 10 times higher.

Cargill said that in addition to the coupon machines urging shoppers to change brands, they also allow retailers to keep close track of the coupons taken and the products sold. This allows retailers to keep shelves stocked and feature special displays with the coupon promotion.