Heavy couponers have long viewed digital coupons with some suspicion. The biggest drawback is that most digital coupons can only be used once, on a single item – which is not conducive to stocking up. Digital coupons can also be unreliable, not always applying when you expect them to. And many couponers simply prefer the feeling of having physical coupons in hand.

But a new survey claims a vast majority of shoppers love digital coupons anyway.

Investment firm William Blair, which follows Coupons.com owner Quotient Technology, revealed the results of its survey in a recent research note. The goal of the survey was to “assess whether digital couponing apps were having an effect on consumers’ shopping behavior.”

Perhaps the most noteworthy finding was that 80% of respondents said they preferred using digital coupons in a retail or couponing app, to using paper coupons.

Digital coupons may be gaining popularity, but are they really already so popular that four out of five shoppers are ready to toss aside their scissors and swear off paper coupons for good?

Consider the actual phrasing of the question, though: “All things equal, do you prefer using coupons on a smartphone (within an app) versus traditional clipped paper coupons?”

If “all things” are truly “equal”, you’d be able to use digital coupons on multiple items like you can with paper coupons, and you could trust digital coupons to come off correctly. So respondents may have based their answers on what they’d like digital coupons to be, instead of what they actually are.


But still – William Blair saw much promise for the future of digital coupons, in the survey results.

It found that those who do use digital coupons are the heaviest users of coupons overall, clipping 20% more than paper coupon users. More than half of respondents said digital coupon apps have increased their couponing activity, with about the same number saying they expect to use coupon apps more this year than last year. And 41% of regular couponers primarily use digital coupons, compared to 37% who most often use Sunday insert coupons and 22% who prefer printable coupons.

Digital coupon use is growing, to be sure. But digital coupons still represent a small fraction of overall coupon use. According to Inmar’s year-end figures, only 3% of all coupons redeemed last year were load-to-card offers. Paper coupons’ share is ever-so-slowly starting to shrink, but they still dominate by far.

Moreover, digital coupons have some of the lowest face values of all types of coupons. The average printable coupon last year was valued at $2.97, while Sunday insert coupons had an average face value of $1.65 and load-to-card coupons were worth a mere $1.31.

And William Blair found that if there are only a few low-value digital coupons available, many shoppers won’t even bother with them. Based on the survey results, the firm estimated that couponers need to save at least 5% per grocery bill – or nearly $9 in a typical shopping trip – to make the use of coupons worthwhile. Based on Inmar’s averages, that amounts to just three printable coupons – or as many as seven digital coupons. So if survey respondents can’t find seven digital coupons to use in a shopping trip, they may not bother using coupons at all.

Even so, the survey results are enough to make William Blair bullish on Quotient. The company has plenty of room to grow, it concluded, as Quotient shifts its primary focus from print-at-home to paperless coupons.

Overall, 80% of all shoppers said they use some form of coupons at least sometimes, and 87% of those who do said they’re using more coupons this year than last. So digital coupons’ future may be bright, according to William Blair’s findings. But coupons of all types remain plenty popular. And with some 300 billion non-digital coupons distributed last year, it seems there’s still plenty of life in good old-fashioned paper, for some time to come.

Image source: Quotient

One Comment

  1. I don’t use digital coupons because they’re one-time use only. There are some stores Dollar General is one, I think maybe Bi-Lo that allow you to use a digital coupons multiple times, but that’s the only one I know of.

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