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If an industry leader says it, it must be true. So use your paper coupons while you can, because they will cease to exist a mere year and a half from now!

That’s the bold prediction from the CEO of Quotient Technology, which owns Coupons.com. The company built its business on printed coupons, but has since gone in a more digital direction – and would be rather pleased if everyone else did, too.

“The printed coupon will be gone in 18 months,” Steven Boal told the grocery industry trade publication Progressive Grocer, in one of two interviews he’s given in recent days.

Why the bleak prognosis? Because, for one, “the printed newspaper is probably on its last leg,” Boal said. Publishers that bypass newspapers to deliver coupon inserts directly to your mailbox or driveway are wasting their time, because those inserts simply “go from your mailbox to your garbage can without landing on a surface on your home,” Boal told Authority Magazine in a separate interview. And besides, he added, “paper coupons are simply not being accepted at a rising number of retailers” anyway.

Well, then. If that’s the state of things, it’s a wonder that paper coupons even exist now!

To take the last point first, the notion that “paper coupons are simply not being accepted at a rising number of retailers” is only true in the literal sense, in that three retailers is a greater number than zero. But even then, the impact of those retailers’ moves has been minimal-to-nonexistent on the coupon industry as a whole. BJ’s Wholesale Club, the only club store to accept manufacturer’s coupons, raised concerns among couponers back in March when it announced that it would “temporarily suspend the use of paper coupons” as a coronavirus-related precautionary measure. If BJ’s could do it, it was only a matter of time before everyone else followed suit, right?

Not really. Two regional grocery delivery services, Ahold Delhaize-owned Peapod and Pennsylvania-based Weis, said they would no longer accept paper coupons for delivery orders – which few grocery delivery services do anyway. And that was about the extent of the “rising number of retailers” that were no longer accepting paper coupons.

But anything that could be perceived as bad news for paper coupons is good news for a digitally-focused coupon company. “Paper coupons are finally starting to reach their end of life,” Boal crowed to investors back in May.

Pre-pandemic, Boal was already predicting tough times ahead for printed coupon inserts. “We have been told,” he said back in November, that companies whose offers comprise some 20% of current coupon inserts will be abandoning the vehicle in the coming year. In February, he went a step further, calling inserts a “nonperforming asset” that other advertisers would be quick to abandon.

And then the coronavirus came along, impacting coupon use across the board, and Boal’s predictions became more audacious.

“With the technological changes, the impact of COVID-19, which is an accelerant, and CPGs finally raising their hand and publicly saying they’re coming out of the free-standing insert, this 50-year-old promotional vehicle will be gone in 18 months,” Boal told Progressive Grocer. Printed coupon inserts are “simply not an effective vehicle for retailers, brands or consumers,” he told Authority Magazine.

Those who publish, and use, printed coupon inserts might beg to differ. Inserts are a notoriously inefficient, but still a cost-effective, way to get a brand message in front of as many eyeballs as possible. According to Inmar Intelligence, 91.4% of all coupons in existence – about 213 billion of them last year – are distributed in the Sunday coupon inserts. Less than 1% of those are redeemed, so Boal is correct that the vast majority of home-delivered inserts go straight “from your mailbox to your garbage can.” But many millions of consumers still see them. If coupon inserts really completely vanish in the next 18 months as Boal predicts, say goodbye to 213 billion coupons in one fell swoop.

And you thought there were few enough good coupons out there as it is.

In the end, much of this is more about competitiveness and gamesmanship than it is about making genuine predictions about the future of coupons. A digitally-focused company is going to denigrate and predict the imminent demise of old-school printed coupons in order to drum up business for its own services, while paper coupon publishers and processors are going to insist that their offerings are more durable, dependable and tried-and-true, even as digital gains in popularity.

In the meantime, all you can do is try to save however you can, and take advantage of coupons wherever you can get them. And then check back in about a year and a half – to see if the long-predicted death of paper coupons actually comes true this time.

Photo by ccPixs.com

2 Comments

  1. If they’re going to go digital, they need to get their rears in gear and make sure they WORK. I don’t trust them.

  2. Honest+Couponer says:

    Great article! Those quotes from Quotient’s CEO were self-serving, hyperbolic and arrogant! Glad you set the record straight using facts and real data! Thank you for continuing to provide a great service to the industry and couponers everywhere!

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