March 24, 2013

The great coupon debate

A double-digit drop in the number of coupons used in 2012 might be a fluke. Or not.

By AMY DUNN McClatchy Newspapers

(Continued from page 2)

Coupn drop
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Coupons are sorted as the Savvy Savers Coupon Clippers gather in Garner, N.C., to swap their unwanted coupons for ones they want or need.

McClatchy Newspapers

"I think companies are working to try to find the right mix," she said. "They definitely need to work on making coupons as hassle-free as possible."

As of 2012, about 90 percent of all coupons were still distributed in coupon books, the vast majority delivered via the Sunday newspaper. Thus far, the so-called "click-to-card" digital coupons that shoppers load to their store loyalty cards have amounted to only about 1 percent of coupons distributed, and redemption is similarly small.

Traditional coupon clippers have been slow to adopt them, citing their limitations. The paperless coupons are typically only good on one purchase and are not doubled in value as paper coupons often are. For instance, if a shopper wanted to buy three boxes of cereal and had three 50-cent paper coupons, the shopper would realize a $3 savings. That same shopper, using digital coupons, would only save 50 cents off one box.

But Inmar, a Winston Salem, N.C.-based company that analyzes coupon use and also operates paper coupon clearinghouses, is forecasting a surge in the popularity of paperless coupons. It's projecting a nearly 900 percent increase in paperless coupons by 2015.

And at least one supermarket chain has addressed the complaint that digital coupons can only be used once. Kroger recently released a set of digital coupons that permitted shoppers to use each one up to five times.


On one point, everyone agrees. The appetite for savings -- sparked by the recession -- remains high.

"Whether the economy is good or bad, people like to save money," Lempert said. "But it's not just about the coupon."

Consumers are buying private-label brands, they're shopping at dollar stores, and they're buying groceries at drugstores -- wherever they can find a deal, Lempert said.

Instead of coupons, Lempert recommends manufacturers and supermarkets ramp up efforts to entice shoppers through their smartphones using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For instance, alerting consumers to in-store flash sales, when a particular item is marked down drastically for a short period of time, is a much more efficient and cheaper way to offer a deal, Lempert said.

Not all coupon clippers, however, are quite ready to embrace all-digital discounts.

"I would be very dismayed if I woke up one Sunday morning and I found there were no more coupons," Shores said.


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