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Cellfire could ignite a handy way to save...

Wed Apr 15, 2009 - 10:39 PM EDT - By Annie Latham


I am a coupon person. On Sundays, after grabbing the Sports section and the weekly ads for Target and Sports Authority, I usually set aside what the folks in the business call free standing inserts (FSI). I love paging through them -- checking out the new products and deals on household and grocery items. In fact, for a long time, I used to fill my pockets full of coupons and head off to the grocery store only to return home with my pockets still full. In my hurry to complete the transaction, I frequently spaced out and forgot to give the checker my coupons. Other times, when I did remember, I would reach into my pockets, only to realize the coupons were in my other shorts. Rats!

I'll admit that when the grocery stores came up with "The Card," my savings game plan improved. In fact the "savings" state of mind seems to be hardwired now. I look for deals on the Web. I look for deals at other retailers. I'm a deal seeking fool, I guess. And I'm not the only one.

For Brent Dusing, the co-founder and CEO of Cellfire, it was his love for saving money coupled with the fact that he was always forgetting his coupons, that ignited the spark to start a company that offered the first ever mobile application that enables people to obtain store and restaurant discounts by using mobile coupons.

Cool concept, right?

According to a forecast from Juniper Research, Mobile coupons (discounts delivered and redeemed via cellphones, smartphones and other "handsets") will be part of the shopping experience of some 200 million mobile users by 2013. The report noted that currently, nearly all mobile coupon activity is taking place in the Far East, with growing adoption in Western Europe and North America over the next few years.

Looks like Mr. Dusing is onto something that has potential to take off a lot sooner as more and more folks seek a way to garner additional savings so their dollars go further.

The San Jose, Calif. - based company was actually founded 4 years ago, in 2005. Cellfire is the first nationwide mobile coupon and discount offer service that allows consumers to easily access deals from brand-name merchants nationwide through their cell phone.

I was eager to give it a try and curious to find out which partners they had and what types of discounts were being offered.

Getting Started with Cellfire:

My game plan was to test this on my Sprint Palm Centro. So I hopped online and typed in www.cellfire.com.

I noticed right away that one of the partners was Best Buy. That's pretty cool. So I clicked on the Get Cellfire Now link.

They start you off by asking for some basic information to get you registered: Your mobile number, year of birth, zip code, whether you are male or female, and your email.

When you log onto the site, it will prompt you for your mobile number and year of birth. Then you will be presented with a screen with offers that are relevant to your area.

But first, I needed to get the Cellfire app onto my Centro. Under the "What is Cellfire" tab, I highlighted "Compatible Phones". On their Cell Phone Selector page, it has a separate "click here" for the iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile device. However, for the Centro, I just followed the prompts.

Choose your Carrier. Choose your phone brand, and choose your phone.

I'm on Sprint and the only Palm that showed up is the Treo 700w/wx.

Note: For fun, since I know the Centro is on all the major carriers, I decided to change to Verizon and AT&T to see what Palm devices showed up. For Verizon, it was the same Treo 700w/wx. For AT&T, it was the Treo 750.

So I clicked on the Other box. The next screen prompted me to click on the Send Message box. A text message from 22888 arrived on the Centro within seconds.

It was a welcome message prompting me to go to http://u.cellfire.com.

When I tapped on the link, it loaded the default browser (i.e. Blazer), and a page that showed a Get Cellfire Now button followed by some offers at Krogers for Betty Crocker Wrm Del, Bisquick, and Chex Mix.

After I tapped Get Cellfire Now, it asked for the 10-digit cell number.

From there, it loaded one of those Terms of Service/Privacy Policy pages. After I tapped to agree, the download began.

It's a tiny file actually, just 6.4K, so I saved it to the main memory on my Centro.

Let's Get Some Deals...

When the app is launched, it takes you to Blazer. Cellfire Express appears on the screen.

It showed deals in my area using the zip code from the registration process. I proceeded to try Cellfire out using four metropolitan areas: San Francisco, Chicago, and Austin.

Cellfire in SF:

For San Francisco (94123), there are three pages of deals, starting on page one with CALA Bell Markets (12 offers), Best Buy (3 different DVD deals at $3 off), Sears (portrait studio), and Hollywood Video (2 offers). On the next page, there were some casual dining deals from Una Mas (FREE food) and North Beach Pizza ($3 off Large Pizza). There were also a couple of offers for 1800flowers.com (15% off any purchase or $5 off any $29.99).

Anytime FREE Food is dangled in front of you, it's worth taking a look. So I tapped and up came one of those classic, buy-one, get one deals:

Get a FREE lunch or dinner entrée when buying another lunch or dinner with a drink. Valid only at participating Una Mas restaurants. Tax, tip and alcohol excluded. Not valid with other coupons.

You are then given four options:

  1. Save it to your "Saved Offers"
  2. View code - 4 views left
  3. Tell a friend
  4. Locations - 1 in your area.

To play it safe, I saved the offer.

I was curious to see how the code worked, so I tapped it. You are given a code to show to the cashier. It looks like a bar code with alphanumeric characters.

Probably not actually scanned.

Cellfire in Chicago

For Chicago, I used zip code 60622 and there were two pages of deals. Many were the same as SF: Best Buy, Sears, Hollywood Video, and 1800flowers.com. Then I found a new one, Caribou Coffee. A FREE drink?! Count me in!

So I tapped and found that my "FREE" actually required a purchase of 1lb of Acacia Organic Blend. My local Peet's will give me a FREE coffee for as little as 1/2-pound bean purchase. But I guess for some, this offer might be enough to entice a visit.

Cellfire in Austin

In Austin, I went to 78759 and the experience mirrored Chicago with two pages of deals that included Best Buy, Sears, Hollywood Video, and 1800flowers.com. The local specialty was Taco Bueno, which put FREE Chips and Queso on the table.

Sure, purchase is required, but this is kind of cool.

Saved Offers saves time:

Cellfire's Saved Offers feature is neat. It helps you quickly load the deals you've tracked down. For example, when you launch your Cellfire app while at the store or restaurant, your second option is to "Go to Saved Offers." One tap and up comes the deal. Saved Offers saves time.

Another great time saver is the searching you can do from your desktop computer. For the sake of this test, I went ahead and saved one of the Pita Express deals. The next time I launch the Cellfire Express app on my Centro, that offer appeared. Now that’s pretty slick.

My Hollywood adventure

You may wonder why I took this around the country approach to checking out Cellfire. That’s because where I live, the offers are limited and mostly for stuff I didn’t want (or need). However, I was very interested in seeing for myself how the code screen worked, so I headed over to the local Hollywood Video and enlisted the help of Jason at the front counter. He had not heard of Cellfire, but was willing to give it a try. So I picked up two previously viewed DVDs and headed to the register.

Both were priced at $14.99. He rang them both up and the total was $32 and change (love California’s new sales tax!). Then Jason tried scanning my Centro just to see if the bar code reader could pick up the image from the screen. It definitely didn’t like the glare. So Jason typed the code into his terminal and pressed enter. The discount appeared along with a new total of $16 and change. Plus, his screen recognized that it was a Cellfire discount. It worked great.


I really like what Cellfire is trying to accomplish. What they need is for more businesses to embrace this form of mobile couponing. That is not an easy task. Right now Facebook and Twitter are getting the attention. Cellfire can reach every cell phone, not just smartphones. The audience potential is bigger than Facebook and Twitter... so that's a lot more eyeballs.

Clearly Cellfire's work is cut out for them. Meanwhile, I recommend you give it a try. Who knows? You may uncover an offer you can't refuse.



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