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Clipped Coupons With Scissors 3

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in the industry over the fact that fewer of us are redeeming coupons. And there’s been a lot of complaining from couponers that the value of available offers is going down. Put the two together, and you reach the obvious conclusion: we’re using fewer coupons, because the coupons are crummy. But an analysis of the year so far indicates that could be changing.

A look at all of the insert coupons available so far this year, shows that the average face value of coupons has risen to $1.63. That’s up 6.5% from 2012’s $1.53. In 2011, the average value was $1.55. That mere two-cent drop from 2011 to 2012, combined with stricter purchase requirements and shorter expiration dates, helped set off a couponing crisis of sorts – coupon redemption in 2012 was down an alarming 17% (read: “Couponers to Companies: Is That All You’ve Got?”).

That decline has been the subject of much speculation, and much discussion at the just-concluded annual Industry Coupon Conference in New Orleans this week. “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert, the event’s keynote speaker, has called traditional coupons “boring” and “passé”, and says the industry will go down “like the Titanic” if it doesn’t go in a more digital direction. Various speakers at the conference urged companies to embrace digital offers, and help reverse the decline in coupon redemption by going where the consumers are – on their phone or at their computer, not with their noses buried in old-fashioned newspapers.

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But could improving coupon redemption rates be as simple as just offering better coupons? If the trend from the first third of this year holds, 2013 could see a sharp increase in coupon values. And at least one paper coupon provider sees that as a good sign. Valassis, which prints the RedPlum coupon inserts, expressed an optimistic outlook yesterday – not only about the value of coupons available, but about the number of them. Citing “more normalized spending levels from our consumer packaged goods clients,” CEO Robert Mason noted that the size of RedPlum inserts has increased 15% from this time last year. And he predicted that inserts’ share of total coupon distribution would increase to nearly 93% this year.

That’s right. For all the talk of digital, mobile and other newfangled coupons, the ones you get in your newspaper represent 93% of all available coupons. That would be up from 88.8% in 2012, according to coupon processing company Inmar.

But then, quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality. Just because there are more insert coupons, that doesn’t mean we’re going to use them all. And even having higher-value coupons available this year is no guarantee that coupon redemption rates will bounce back. When NCH Marketing asked shoppers why they used fewer coupons last year, respondents cited stricter purchase requirements and shorter expiration dates, but the number-one answer was “I can’t find coupons for the products I want to buy.”

Indeed, many of the higher-value insert coupons available so far this year have been for non-food products. $10 off an electric toothbrush, $15 off Nicorette, or the nearly $100 in Hasbro game coupons that were available in a March SmartSource insert are nice if you need them. But if you don’t, they just boost the average coupon value without actually offering much value at all.

So keep an eye on your coupons to see if their value keeps increasing this year – because, when it comes to determining what will get you to use more coupons, you can bet that manufacturers and coupon providers will be keeping an eye on you.

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