Why Americans Are Cutting Coupons Out of Their Lives

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Did American consumers suddenly get rich, or just get sick of using coupons? Not likely. Did the number of coupons issued shrink last year? No again. Then why did the number of redeemed coupons decrease dramatically?

According to NCH Marketing Services, manufacturers sent 305 billion coupons into circulation in the U.S. last year. That’s roughly the same total as 2011. However, the number of coupons used by consumers in 2012 measured 2.9 billion, representing a dip of 17% compared to the year before.

Surely, some consumers scaled back on coupons or stopped using them entirely because they were in better positions financially and no longer felt the need. But in the NCH’s survey, the top answer given by consumers who said they were using fewer coupons is simply this:

“I can’t find coupons for the products I want to buy.”

Nearly half (46%) of consumers who redeemed fewer coupons said they did so mainly because there were fewer coupons worth redeeming. While the total number of coupons has remained steady, the number of coupons that shoppers actually feel are valuable enough to use is on the decline.

(MORE: Former Extreme Couponer Admits: ‘It’s a Waste of Time’)

Coupons are available nowadays for everything from clothing to restaurant meals. Still, for obvious reasons, consumers tend to be most likely to use coupons on household essentials—namely, groceries. And guess what? The number of coupons for food decreased by 6.5% last year, according to NCH. At the same time, there was an increase in coupons for goods that consumers are less likely to need on a weekly basis (various “non-food categories” like deodorants and cough remedies), or even be tempted to buy, including more coupons for new products featuring brands that shoppers haven’t heard of.

What’s more, the coupons that did continue offering discounts on foods tended to be less generous last year. The average face value of coupons dropped, while more coupons required shoppers to buy two or more food products in order to get a discount.

So no wonder people are used fewer coupons last year: There was less reason to use them.

11 comments
KayTee
KayTee

Using coupons online - such as coupons at http://ktcoupon.com - may be useful, but the biggest reason people don't like to use coupons in real life is that it is usually not accepted or the cashier is rude or not knowledgeable about coupon usage. Some valid coupons are rejected because the deals seem too good and the cashier doesn't have any knowledge of it and gets scared and reject it.

ShopChippmunk
ShopChippmunk

So, I work for a startup called chippmunk.com.  We're like a Kayak for coupons.  We're hoping consumers come to us before they shop.  Best deals are posted on top so consumers know they're getting the best deal within their designated budget ...would love your comments.  Try us out! Or, follow us on twitter (we're just getting going).  @shopchippmunk

texrat
texrat

You overlooked another reason, the biggest for me: store loyalty programs are slowly replacing coupons.  The one I use involves me clicking on the items I want on a website and avoiding coupon-cutting.  But in the end, the savings are the same.

daisyandus
daisyandus like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I'm not using coupons due to the following, the coupon is/has:
1. For "new" products that stores don't even carry the product yet
2. For products I don't use or want
3. Early expiration dates
4. Having to purchase 2 to 10 of the item for the coupon to be valid

texrat
texrat like.author.displayName 1 Like

@daisyandus I've noticed the same thing.  I used to be a major coupon-clipper, but your reasons combined with a really nice store loyalty program have (ahem) cut into my cutting.

Karabin
Karabin

My problem with coupons is that they tend to be for lower-quality products that I don't usually buy. I'll use coupons for things like toilet paper and dish soap (though stores put those sorts of things on sale pretty frequently as it is), but you seldom see coupons for fresh fruits and veggies that aren't pre-packaged, or cuts of meat that aren't the cheapest available (or again, prepackaged), or things like cheese that is actually cheese and not "cheese product." If you want to eat actual real food made with good quality ingredients, you're kind of placed out of the coupon game.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

The simple fact is brand names no longer have the "snooty" factor they once had.  The stigma of buying no-name products is GONE.  People, forced by lowered income, have restored to the store's "no name" brands, and found there was virtually no difference in taste or quality the vast majority of the time, but a gigantic one in price.  Those "no name" brands are often cheaper, even if the name brand has a coupon for 50% off.

While the numbers say more people are employed, the fact is, their incomes are at a considerably lower level than the majority of the jobs originally lost.  Sustainable, liveable wage jobs are not coming on the market, so people have resorted to sticking to no-name brands out of fiscal necessity.  Coupons don't make up the difference because there are almost never coupons for no-name brands and the name brands are more expensive even with coupons.

So even if the coupons are for items I may want, the fact is, most of the time they don't reflect the savings of buying a no-name item at that no-name item's regular low price.

Finally, people create habits and tend to stick to them.  Consumer spending didn't really take off until there was a spending generation raised who didn't know deprivation or who was forced by financial reality to scrimp and spend while considering where every penny went.  Once you create a whole population who goes through that, their spending habits change and it takes a lot more time to get them to UNCHANGE.  Coupons may once have presented a value - and may still do to some - but today's shopper isn't interested in a coupon-induced deal.  Out of habit, they'll check other places and other prices and buy where (or what) it's less, whether it takes a coupon or not.  Until the economy is rolling for everyone instead of just the top 30%, and wages allow for more disposable income than they have been, you'll see people looking for REAL bargains instead of the song and dance shows that coupons mostly have for name brand items that end up costing a family more than the generic products.

quickdraw
quickdraw like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

There is also the matter of store loyalty programs and the corresponding perceptions of value. I trove the weekly circular looking for the things I buy, and when I find a good deal, I bulk up. A 25% reduction in the grocery bill is the standard target, once the loyalty discount is applied. The grocers have inflated prices for nonparticipants in the loyalty program and that as enhanced profits, which affects the number and type of coupons to produce. If people perceive that enough value is coming by way of their participation in loyalty programs, then why bother with coupons?

Also, some programs involve the need to go online to "capture", or apply to their loyalty card account. This requires an extra step which many are not willing to do (I know I'm not! At least until things get much worse out there...). So they are doing what is called (in marketing and web development speak) A/B testing, tweaking various aspects of their coupon strategies to see works and what doesn't. There is definitely an evolution going on that will alter the coupon space significantly.  

The loss of attraction to brand-value, and in-store brands greatly raising product quality, capturing market share (profit) from the big brands, very significantly reduces the redemption of coupons that attempt to drive sales to specific brands. Brands are dying a death of thousand cuts, and you're seeing it here with coupon redemption rates. No mystery in that!

Finally, the products that people want to buy has been whittled down by the economy to the just the essentials, which carry the slimmest of margins. Discounts for those products have to be recouped by the sales of higher margin products, but these aren't selling as much, so you've got a catch-22. Due to these fundamentals, and partially due to the loyalty programs, the loss leader of discounts on "core" products just might be slowly going the way of the dodo bird.


texrat
texrat

@quickdraw I finally broke down and started going to my favorite store's website and clicking on the items I'm interested in.  It actually takes less time than coupon clipping did, and I do it during the same opportunities (like TV commercials) so no real loss of free time.  Still saving well too (my per-visit target is 30% minimum saved and I stay around that).

Robespierre
Robespierre like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I totally agree that the main reason consumers are using fewer coupons is because most coupons now are useless - not products I want to buy. It's also true of coupons that stores offer. I used to use Walgreens coupons all the time, but somehow their marketing and sales people decided to revamp their ad and coupon circular, and basically quit offering what I was always buying. As a result, my Walgreens purchases have dived - probably a third of what I used to buy. Walgreens - you listening?!? Same with Sunday newspaper coupons. I used to clip a half dozen each Sunday, but they no longer apply to what I buy. So now it's one or two a month. I also don't buy products I used to purchase with coupons, so the product manufacturers and companies are losing out, as well. And the length of time today's coupons are valid is also an issue. Early expiration dates... Who wants to clip a coupon if it's useless a month from now? Pretty sad when the marketers go clueless, and that really describes today's marketers. Brainless, clueless, not paying attention.

wwr
wwr like.author.displayName 1 Like

This describes me to a T. I have many coupons lying around but they are for more then I need of stuff I don't want. Another issue is that I never remember to bring them with me to the store.