The scene is common: The shopper, fumbling at the checkout counter for a cents-off coupon, realizes that it is sitting, useless, in a drawer at home. Q-Comp Corp.'s Frederick L. Good thinks there is a way to save consumers and marketers from that frustrating scene in the future, while making a good buck at it.

Good's idea is the Coupon Counter, a machine that would let customers pick up coupons they want to use right in the store. The kiosk-style machine works like an automatic teller, delivering coupons when customers insert a personalized magnetic card. The Counter, designed for use in major grocery stores, allots up to a dozen coupons per week to each cardholder. Shoppers pay nothing for the service. Advertisers pay for representation in the dispenser.

The idea for the Counter came from consumer focus groups, explains Good, who was a marketing executive for a Boston dairy before he left to found Q-Comp. He found that shoppers were enthusiastic about coupons in geeneral, but frustrated with the process of cutting and storing vast collections, only to forget them when they went to the store. The Coupon Counter saves them all that hassle. "I hate to use such a hackneyed word as convenient," says Good, "but that's what it is. And folks just love convenience."

Good says advertisers are excited about his machine, with more than 30 companies already signed up for the six Boston-area stores now displaying Coupon Counters. He is eyeing a national rollout in the fall.

The national market is huge. According to industry statistician A. C. Nielsen Co., 142 billion coupons were distributed by manufacturers last year, but only about 4% were used. This means that nearly 95% of a company's distribution dollars go out with the trash, says Good. The Coupon Counter, he says, promises to up that redemption rate dramatically.

A possible flaw in all this is that marketers may not want to increase the efficiency of their coupon programs. David A. Brandon, executive vice-president of GFV Communications Inc., a Livonia, Mich.-based printer and distributor of cents-off coupons, said that in-store coupon distribution often results in redemption rates of 50% or more. "Quite frankly," says Brandon, "most manufacturers balk at that high a rate."