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.