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If you like coupons, the newest annual report about the state of couponing paints a bleak picture. The number of coupons used continues to sink, while the number of coupons available has also declined significantly. It’s enough to make you think that shoppers have lost interest in coupons altogether. But several new surveys suggest that, while shoppers don’t seem to be using as many coupons as they used to, they’d still like to. They just want coupons to be more relevant – and they want couponing itself to be easier.

In conjunction with its annual Promotion Industry Analysis, Inmar conducted a survey of grocery shoppers. It found that 46% always or usually use digital coupons, and 43% always or usually use insert coupons. A separate recent survey conducted by IRI found that 60% of shoppers clip paper coupons and 35% download digital coupons.

But whatever format they use, shoppers just aren’t using as many coupons as they used to.

Why? Because “shoppers want accessibility and personalization,” Inmar found. 64% said they would use more coupons if more of them were available online. And 72% said they wish stores would feature coupon “matchups” on their websites, highlighting items that are on sale and also have an available coupon.

Another recent survey by Fluent Commerce found that shoppers are even willing to allow stores to track their location and shopping habits if it means having easier access to coupons. 71% said they would be enticed to shop in a store if they were sent coupons to a nearby location while browsing online. And 85% said they want retailers to sent them relevant coupons based on their shopping habits.

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As any good couponer knows, couponing takes some effort. Many shoppers who don’t use coupons claim they simply don’t have the time or the patience to do it. And it doesn’t help that coupons themselves are becoming less attractive – expiration dates are getting shorter, while many coupons and retailers are limiting how many of the same coupons you can use in a single shopping trip. And coupons for food, which are among the most sought-after, are fewer and far between. So even committed couponers aren’t using as many coupons as they used to.

If manufacturers wanted to reverse this behavior, they could offer more and better coupons to get more people to use them and try their products. But the severe downturn in the number of coupons available last year seems to indicate that coupon issuers aren’t necessarily all that concerned about fewer people taking advantage of their offers.

But Inmar’s shopper survey suggests that might be a mistake. Because coupons, it says, work.

“Coupons influence behavior for 80% of shoppers,” Inmar found. About a third of shoppers said they bought a product sooner than they otherwise might have, bought more of that product or bought a different brand because they had a coupon. About a quarter bought a different product from the same brand, and 20% said they switched back to another brand they had previously purchased because they had a coupon.

By reacting to shoppers’ lack of interest in coupons by offering fewer coupons, brands could be setting off an endless cycle – the fewer and less attractive coupons there are, the fewer the number of coupons that will be used. That could be seen as a good thing, if brands are able to save money by selling fewer items at a discount. But Inmar’s survey suggests they might be losing sales to competitors by not making more coupons available.

So rather than cutting back on coupons, brands might want to focus on offering better coupons – and making them easier to find and use. Then maybe this time next year we’ll be talking about how couponing is making a comeback.

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One Comment

  1. “they wish stores would feature coupon “matchups” on their websites, highlighting items that are on sale and also have an available coupon.”

    King Soopers/Kroger does this very well. Extensive array of digital coupons, updated every day; every item in store is searchable in many different ways (department, brand, promotion, etc.) and matching digital coupons shown for each item, including whether you have loaded it or not. Click on coupon and you will see a list of qualifying items). Promotions are highlighted in red (for example, recent megasale buy 6, save $3) for each item.

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