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You’ve heard it said by longtime couponers, and maybe you’ve said it yourself – the deals just aren’t as good as they used to be. Once “extreme couponing” became a full-fledged fad, retailers and manufacturers began tightening up their coupon policies, and bargains were harder to come by.

But, while we’ve seen statistics showing that coupons are not as good as they once were, there’s new evidence that the deals are actually better than ever.

A Wall Street Journal report cites data showing that sales of packaged goods have stalled, and manufacturers are responding with “a blitz of deals and coupons in conjunction with retailers.”

When was the last time you paid full price for pasta? What about feminine products, tissues or spray polish? According to data from the firms Bernstein Research and Euromonitor International, those product categories were among those with the steepest declines in sales last year, as cash-strapped consumers shifted their spending priorities. Overall, sales of consumer products have been flat for the past three years in a row.

So manufacturers are responding with “aggressive discounts,” the Wall Street Journal reports. And shoppers are responding by holding out for those discounts before buying anything.

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More than a third of grocery items were sold at a discount in the 12-month period through this February, according to data from Nielsen – the highest level, the WSJ reports, since the recession officially ended nearly four years ago. And that percentage is even higher for certain product categories such as toilet paper, potato chips and soda. You can barely scan a supermarket ad without seeing one or all of those products on sale at any given time. More than 50% of all toilet paper, chips and sodas are now sold at a discount.

Could that mean those products are just overpriced to begin with? Possibly. As a result, a third of product categories tracked by the market research firm IRI actually saw reduced prices last year. On average, everyday prices for products like pasta, peanut butter, mayonnaise, laundry detergent, shaving lotions and fragrances were lower than the year before.

And that’s in addition to the discounts. The WSJ cites some specific sales as examples, such as one going on at Target this week. You can get a $10 gift card on a purchase of $30 worth of Angel Soft or Quilted Northern toilet paper. That’s a 33% discount right off the bat. And if you want to work at it, by combining the deal with manufacturer’s and store coupons, a Cartwheel offer and the 5% discount offered to Red Card holders, you can increase that discount to 63%. The final price comes to around 5 bucks for a giant pack of toilet paper that normally sells for three times as much.

And next week they really expect you to pay a full $15 for the very same item? Fat chance – savvy shoppers will just stock up now and wait for the next sale before buying any more.

The Wall Street Journal, business-oriented publication that it is, portrays this as a troubling trend. “From Soap to Cereal, Manufacturers Risk Training Consumers to Wait for a Deal,” the article’s subheading warns. “When we see some of the promotional pricing out there, it’s pretty clear someone has lost their mind,” Deutsche Bank retail analyst Bill Schmitz told the paper. “Price wars don’t help growth and are not good for the industry,” added Jim Craigie, the CEO of Arm & Hammer owner Church & Dwight. “They are the easiest things to start, and the hardest to finish.”

Manufacturers did manage to bring coupon values and redemption rates back down to earth, after a huge spike a few years ago. Now it seems it’s silly season when it comes to sales. That may not be particularly good for the consumer packaged goods industry and their $770 billion-a-year business – but it’s great for shoppers.

So build up that stockpile while you have the chance. Whenever the discounts do start to slow and prices start creeping up again, you’ll be well prepared.

One Comment

  1. Albertson’s just announced that effective 4/9/14 at least in the Texas region they will be ending double and triple coupons. The sign was on my local store this morning:
    http://realityretailandcouponing.blogspot.com/

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