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We already know that last year was a tough year for coupons, with the number of offers distributed and redeemed both sinking to levels not seen in decades. But we’re already well into a new year now. And with the worst of the coronavirus pandemic behind us – we hope – and life and grocery shopping getting back to normal again, will couponing start to bounce back as well?

Yes – and also no, it appears.

Following up on last week’s initial release of coupon stats from 2020, Inmar Intelligence has offered some new insights into how companies and consumers are feeling about couponing so far this year.

And it looks like coupon distribution and redemption are returning to normal – if by normal, you mean continuing the pace of decline we’ve been seeing since long before the coronavirus came along. Then again, that only tells part of the story.

In the first three months of 2021, 58.8 billion coupons were distributed, down 11% from the same period last year. Of course, it’s worth noting that the first quarter of 2020 was mostly pre-pandemic, before the number of available coupons really started plummeting. So it’s not alarming that we haven’t returned to pre-pandemic coupon distribution levels just yet.

That said, coupon distribution in the first three months of 2020 was already down 8% from the year before that. So the downward trend can’t be blamed on the coronavirus – it’s been happening anyway. So it’s possible we may never actually return to pre-pandemic coupon distribution levels.

It’s a similar story with coupon usage. Shoppers redeemed about 260 million coupons through March of this year, down 18% from the same period last year, which was down 12% from the same period the year before. So declining coupon use is also something we’ve been seeing every year lately, with or without a global pandemic to complicate matters.

At some point, though, the declining figures are going to have to hit bottom. Coupon distribution has been declining pretty steadily since 2013, and coupon redemption has been sinking every year since 2011. And unless coupons are headed for extinction, the numbers can’t keep going down forever.

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So maybe this year we’re due for a change. Shoppers sure seem to hope so.

32% of shoppers who participated in an accompanying Inmar survey said they expect their coupon use to increase in the next 6 months, with only 4% expecting it to decrease. More than half of shoppers say they have already used both digital and paper coupons this year. And 79% regularly look for coupons before buying groceries.

Additional findings, which marketers might want to make note of, indicate that coupons and deals still work. 83% of shoppers say in-store sales and specials have a significant influence on their choice of retailer. And 88% say that coupons have changed their purchase decisions – whether influencing them to buy a particular item for the first time, or switching back to a brand they had purchased previously.

With fewer coupons available, it makes sense that fewer coupons are being redeemed. But there’s still reason for couponers to be optimistic – because the coupons that are available, are much better than they used to be.

Inmar found that the average coupon face value soared 10% to $2.12 last year, an all-time high, surpassing the $2 mark for the first time. Of course, high face values are only helpful if you don’t have to buy multiple items in order to redeem the coupon – and thankfully, purchase requirements are down as well. The average purchase requirement was down 6%, to 1.41 units, for an average coupon value per unit of $1.50. And to top it all off, expiration dates are getting longer as well – the average coupon was valid for 1.2 months last year, up 14%.

Some might wonder, though, what good are good coupons if you can’t use them to feed your family? The ratio of food to nonfood coupons is more lopsided than ever. A couple of decades ago, about half of all coupons available were for edible items. But last year, food coupons represented just 18.4% of all available coupons – an all-time low. That means more than four out of every five coupons is for a personal care product, a household cleaner, or just about anything other than something you can serve for dinner.

And shoppers are noticing. “There are never any food coupons of any kind anymore,” a recent Coupons in the News commenter wrote. “How much Alka Seltzer Plus and Dial Body Wash does a person need?”

So coupons are more valuable, but they’re still not as attractive to many. Shoppers expect to be clipping more coupons this year, but so far, there are fewer of them available to use. Eventually, one hopes, coupons’ benefits to shoppers, brands and retailers alike will converge and things will start looking up. Otherwise, when it comes to those slumping coupon distribution and redemption figures, it may well be that we haven’t hit bottom just yet.

Image source: cpyles

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