Everyone likes a good deal. But the way that different shoppers are getting their deals is more varied than ever these days. It’s no secret that older shoppers generally prefer tried-and-true paper coupons, while younger shoppers are more drawn to digital discounts. But when might the tipping point occur, when digital eclipses paper for good?

The sales and marketing firm Acosta explores that issue, in the new 14th edition of its “The Why? Behind The Buy” report.

This year’s study examines the grocery shopping and saving habits of five distinct generations, from “Gen Z” young adults to senior citizens. Many of the differences in how each generation shops, and saves, are naturally based on their life stages – Gen Z shoppers don’t shop very much for themselves, for example, while senior citizens often shop only for themselves. And when Gen Z shoppers grow old, the same will likely be true for them.

But when today’s teenagers become tomorrow’s senior citizens, will they still be grabbing scissors to cut out paper coupons from newspaper inserts like today’s seniors do? Or will some generational changes turn out to be permanent?

Acosta finds that seniors are “big redeemers of print coupons”, with nine out of ten of those surveyed saying that they have redeemed a paper grocery coupon within the past month. They’re also the most brand loyal, indicating that 84% of the grocery brands they purchase now are the same brands they purchased last year. And they’re least likely among all generations to buy store brands in order to save money.


Next in the report are the Baby Boomers. Acosta describes them as “technology-capable” – they can deal with digital and mobile technology, but only if they have to. Only 14% of boomers say they’re likely to use a mobile coupon when grocery shopping. They’re also extremely loyal, with 93% saying they grocery shop most often at the same store as last year.

Generation X is where the digital divide begins to show. “The Gen X population learned to adapt to digital technology in early adulthood, leaving them with one foot in the past and one foot in the future,” the report notes. So they embrace both old and new styles of shopping and saving. “While Gen X shoppers are not always in the lead in using grocery digital tools, significantly more redeemed digital grocery coupons in the past month, as compared to other generations, including coupons downloaded to a shopper card and coupons printed from a coupon or retailer website,” the report finds.

Next come the millennials. They are “digital natives, so it’s natural for them to use technology while grocery shopping,” Acosta notes. Compared to boomers, nearly three times as many millennials are likely to use mobile coupons. 60% of them use mobile apps for grocery coupons or rebates, significantly more than any other generation, with Ibotta (used by 27%) and Checkout 51 (used by 24%) the most popular apps. And when there are no coupons or discounts available, millennials are most likely to buy store brands to save money.

Finally, there’s Generation Z. They’re barely into adulthood, so they spend the least on groceries of any generation. “Gen Z has never experienced life without the internet,” the report notes. So they’re most comfortable with using mobile technology. But most don’t have families to feed, so they’re not necessarily looking for coupons and deals. Instead, 42% turn to mobile technology to make digital grocery lists. As they get older, mobile coupons may become a bigger priority.

So as these digitally-savvy shoppers grow older, start families and do more grocery shopping, how will their habits today influence how they shop tomorrow? “It’s still early to tell exactly how this generation will fit into the grocery retail landscape, or how their shopping patterns will take shape,” Acosta acknowledges.

Other studies have shown that, despite the conventional wisdom that young people can’t be bothered with anything they can’t access on their phones, younger generations actually are not turning away from paper coupons. They’re comfortable using digital discounts, but they’re also inclined to go wherever the savings are – so as long as paper coupons remain available, and dominant, they have no problem seeking them out and using them.

So don’t sound the death knell for paper coupons just yet. As today’s kids grow into tomorrow’s adults, they may turn out more like their grandparents than you might expect.

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