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Coupons are still plenty popular – manufacturers are churning them out, and we’re clipping and using them by the billions. But a new report says we’re actually saving less money with coupons than we have in years.

The findings come in the annual Coupon Facts Report, published by the coupon processing company NCH Marketing. It’s the latest of several reports released around this time of year, that study coupon trends from the previous year.

Though the specific numbers differ slightly, NCH’s 2013 coupon stats are largely in line with those in earlier reports issued by Kantar Media and Inmar. Coupons’ expiration dates are getting shorter, and there are far fewer coupons for food than for things like personal care and cleaning products. Still, NCH found that the number of coupons distributed (315 billion) and their average face value ($1.62) both increased in 2013, so there’s some good news.

But comparing those numbers to past years can cause you to reach different conclusions, depending on whose findings you go by. NCH says the average face value of all coupons redeemed held relatively steady over the past several years, while Inmar says it jumped significantly last year.

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That led Inmar to conclude that we saved much more with coupons last year – while NCH concluded that we saved less. Less, in fact, than we have since before the recession. According to NCH, last year’s total coupon savings of $3.5 billion is down from the previous year’s $3.7 billion, way down from 2011’s historic high of $4.5 billion, and the lowest since 2008’s $2.9 billion.

Much of that is due to manufacturers trying to bring their coupon and marketing expenses back down to earth, after the recession and extreme couponing craze sent coupon use soaring. That said, even though our coupon savings are the lowest they’ve been in a long time, they still remain significantly higher than at any time before the recession.

Some coupon users still aren’t satisfied, though. NCH found that 80.9% of all consumers said they used coupons “always, very often or sometimes” last year. But about 11% said they’ve been using fewer coupons than they have in the past. And nearly half said it was because they can’t find coupons for the products they want to buy.

Maybe they’re not in the market for hair care products. The product categories with the largest growth in coupon offerings last year are almost all nonfood categories. Hair care, shaving needs, detergents and deodorants showed the highest growth in coupon distribution volume in 2013. At number ten, “frozen prepared foods” were the only edibles to make the top-ten list.

A quarter of those who said they used fewer coupons last year said it was because their coupons tend to expire before they have a chance to use them – a reaction to those shorter expiration dates – and one-fifth said that coupons require them to buy too many items to see any savings. And 18% responded with the dreaded “I don’t have time to clip coupons.”

Making coupons somewhat less attractive has allowed many companies to “expand their use of coupons while keeping their coupon redemption costs in check,” noted NCH Vice President of Marketing Charlie Brown. But it’s always a balancing act. If too few people use coupons, companies may start making them more enticing – upping the value, or lengthening the expiration dates. If, on the other hand, coupon use holds steady – well, hope you liked last year’s coupons, because they could turn out to be a good indication of what coupons will look like in the year to come.

One Comment

  1. Oh and all those coupons in the Sunday paper?—they’re all for things I would NEVER buy…that’s one of the reasons why I don’t subscribe to the paper any more.

    For me, printables rule these days. I wonder what the stats say on redemptions.. print -vs- newspaper stock (and changing trends)

    Regardless-the mfgrs are just getting stingy. I saw a soup coupon the other day. It was for .50. I had to buy 8 cans of soup to get the .50-and it was Progresso. $2/can Progresso. Hard to get excited about .50 when you’re expected to pull $16.00 of canned soup of the shelf. 🙁

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