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Double coupon signs

With Kroger’s recent efforts to discontinue double coupons, and some competitors following suit, there’s no question that double coupons are on the decline. But are they doomed? A new study makes the case that double coupons are far from dead, and it could be only a matter of time before they make a comeback.

That insight comes from Inmar Promotion Consulting’s latest annual coupon doubling survey. While it’s true that the number of stores offering double coupons has declined since the last survey, there are still plenty that do – in fact, in 51% of the markets that Inmar surveyed nationwide, there is at least one prominent retailer that still doubles.

So even if your favorite store doesn’t double anymore, chances are fairly good that you can shop around and find a store in your area that still does.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, that rosy-looking 51% figure can be a little misleading. Just because a store advertises doubles, doesn’t mean you can show up with a fistful of coupons and expect to make a killing. Many stores have imposed new limits on doubling, and some engage in enough sneaky sleight of hand that they essentially have double coupon policies in name only.

If you’ve ever been frustrated trying to get a straight answer from your store about its coupon policy, you know that there can be a lot of room for interpretation. Some stores might direct you to a corporate policy that they may or may not follow, others have no corporate coupon policy at all and leave it up to individual stores, and still others say their corporate policy is just a set of guidelines that individual stores are free to modify.

So pity the poor folks at Inmar, who conducted their survey the hard way – by calling more than a thousand grocery stores across the country to get answers. Never mind what the corporate policy says, what do different regions and even individual stores offer in terms of double coupons?

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What they found is that not all double coupon policies are created equal. Some doubling policies are so restrictive, that to say 51% of markets offer double coupons, isn’t saying much. All stores impose some limits, such as the maximum value of a coupon that they’ll double. But others will only double a certain number of coupons per day – some as few as four. Still others increase the value of a coupon to a set maximum, which means many coupons don’t really “double” at all.

The manufacturers who issue coupons are well aware of these limits. And retailers know that the manufacturers know – and if not, they’ll make sure that they do.

Retailers who have to pay for double coupons out of their own pockets, have a way of pressuring persuading manufacturers to offer coupon values in their regions that just happen to not be eligible for doubling. If a manufacturer puts a 50-cent coupon in the local paper that proves particularly popular at a store that doubles 50-cent coupons, that retailer is going to lose a lot of money paying for all that doubling. If the manufacturer does it again, then maybe they don’t get preferential shelf space in the store anymore, or get their product featured on an endcap display, unless they honor the retailer’s request that they adjust their coupon values. Next time, they might issue a non-doubling 55-cent coupon instead. Or maybe $1, so the ultimate value to the shopper is the same, but the money comes out of the manufacturer’s pocket instead of the retailer’s.

Some stores are so successful at playing that game, that they can shout about offering double coupons all they want, without ever really even having to double anything at all. Sneaky…

So it’s hard to quantify how many of the stores in those 51% of markets that offer double coupons, really offer the kind of double coupons that can produce significant savings.

Still, Inmar is optimistic that double coupons aren’t dying. They’re just poised for a comeback.

“Once a grocery store in one market starts to double coupons, other competing groceries in that market may feel like they have no choice but to follow suit,” Inmar Analytics Senior Consultant Andrew Coleman writes on the Inmar Promotion Analytics Team blog. Similarly, if no one in a market doubles coupons anymore, any retailer looking to stand out can revive doubles and have that distinction all to themselves. “From the consumer perspective,” Coleman concludes, “this is a great win.”

So Kroger can try to kill off double coupons if they’d like. But the move only opens the door to competitors who might want to offer something that Kroger does not. So when it comes to doubles, they’ve seen better days – but don’t count them out just yet.

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