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Good news if you like coupons – grocery stores plan to offer more of them in the coming years, though the coupons might look a little different than what you’re accustomed to. Stores also say they plan to offer more sales – but not necessarily better ones.

Those are some of the findings of a national survey of supermarket owners, representing more than 3,000 grocery stores across the country. Grocery retail cooperative Topco Associates and marketing and promotions management company Aptaris asked grocers what types of promotions and discounts they’re offering now – and what they plan to offer more or less of, in the future.

And nearly half of respondents “are changing course on their advertising and promotional strategies as the economy is starting to recover in some areas and for some groups of the population,” the report found.

Store coupons still play into most stores’ strategies. 93% of the stores surveyed said they currently offer coupons to their customers. And a third said they expect to offer even more of them in the next three years.

But don’t start sharpening your scissors. Most of those new offers won’t be printed on paper. A unanimous 100% of those surveyed, said they expect to offer more digital coupons in the next three years. Only 8% foresee more printed coupons.

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Similarly, grocers expect to be less reliant on their printed circulars in the coming years. More than half said they expect to use them less, and none predicted they’d use them more. “It is clear that the industry is trending away from print and towards digital,” the survey takers concluded.

The industry may also be moving away from deep discounting. While a reassuring 100% predicted they’d be offering the same, or more, sales promotions in the next few years, many are hoping to scale back. “We’re looking at the aggressiveness of promotional price reductions to see if we can dial back some of the discounts,” one survey respondent said. “As pricing becomes a little less sensitive, we’re starting to look if adjustments can be made to promotional pricing,” another offered.

One way they hope to do so, is by reserving some of the best deals for their best customers. “With the rise of big data and better understanding past purchasing behavior, retailers are expecting a more important role for loyalty discounts,” the survey takers noted. Stores are devoting more of their marketing budget to their loyalty programs, with 70% expecting to offer more deals to their loyal customers in the coming years. One respondent predicted “shifting over time to more digital and more personalized promotions versus blanket, deeply discounted promotions.”

In the end, getting a good deal is still a priority for grocery shoppers. More than a third of the retailers surveyed said that promotionally-priced items account for up to 30% of their total sales. Among large chains with more than 100 stores, that percentage shoots up to 50%. Dialing back on the deals may help to boost profit margins, but only if shoppers don’t revolt and switch to a store that offers better bargains.

So will you be able to save more, or less, in the next few years? It kind of depends.

Stores may plan to offer more coupons and sales, but if they’re not as good as they are today, or if they’re only reserved for a certain class of customer, it may be more difficult to save on your grocery bill. Unless, that is, you don’t care whether your coupons are made of paper, and you’re in that favored group of your store’s most valuable customers. Then your deals may still be pretty good. As retailers try to make more money, and shoppers try to save more, only time will tell which one wins in the end.

Photo by eddie.welker

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