Paper coupons have seen better days – but are they finally, officially, headed for extinction?

Some recent headlines might lead you to believe so. But even some proponents of paperless offers are softening their views and acknowledging that paper coupons aren’t dead – and might never be.

This time last year, for the first time, Inmar Intelligence reported that redemption of digital coupons surpassed the usage of paper coupons from newspaper inserts. And last month, Inmar confirmed that those numbers held up for the full year – digital load-to-card coupons accounted for 29.3% of all coupons used throughout 2020, overtaking insert coupons, whose once-dominant share slid to 28%.

And just as last year’s news led the Wall Street Journal to rashly conclude that “Coupon Clipping Fades Into History,” last month’s news led to several, similar misleading headlines, like “Digital overtakes paper as consumers’ preferred coupon type,” “Digital Coupon Redemption Surpasses Print for 1st Time,” and “Digital Coupon Redemption Finally Overtakes Print.”

But if digital coupons represented 29.3% of all coupons used last year, what does that make the other 70.7%?

Paper, of course. Insert coupons are the most popular form of paper coupons, but they’re far from the only printed form. So while it’s notable that digital coupons are now used more often than the most common type of paper coupon, that’s not the same as digital overtaking paper altogether.


Nevertheless, it all does raise the question anew – will paper coupons’ share of redemption continue to dwindle to the point that the printed coupon will eventually go the way of the dinosaur? We’re only about eight months and counting until the date when one industry executive predicted paper coupons would completely disappear. But other industry leaders are taking a more measured approach.

“Though the end to paper coupons has been something of a looming threat for decades now, the truth is, there will always be a place for paper coupons,” the coupon provider RevTrax wrote in a recent blog post. “As long as there is still a customer demand for them, they will persist.”

RevTrax is an early adopter of the Universal Mobile Offer, the new paperless coupon format being developed by the industry-backed Coupon Bureau. The Universal Mobile Offer aims to improve upon the inefficiencies and insecurity of paper coupons, and the drawbacks of load-to-card digital coupons that require you to use them at a specific store. Instead, you’ll be able to receive and redeem bar-coded mobile coupons displayed on your phone, anywhere coupons are accepted.

It’s the kind of thing you might think could put existing coupon formats out to pasture. But The Coupon Bureau and its partners are careful to point out that they’re not looking to replace anything, and that their coupon format can peacefully coexist alongside others. “It’s in nobody’s interest for digital couponing to affect current, successful retail promotions strategies,” RevTrax pointed out.

That said, “digital couponing is the way of the future,” RevTrax declared. And few would disagree, especially after a year when virtually everything about couponing, grocery shopping and life itself changed – perhaps permanently.

With many of us avoiding unnecessary outings over the past year, “more consumers adopted hybrid shopping styles, combining in-store and online purchases of grocery products,” Inmar Intelligence EVP & President of Marketing Technology Spencer Baird told Coupons in the News. As a result, “their opportunities to use paper coupons declined, and engagement with digital coupons, already trending upward in previous years, accelerated.”

So it may have taken a global pandemic for digital coupons to finally claim the crown as the most popular coupon format. But consumers who happily redeemed the remaining 70.7% of coupons that were printed on paper last year, might dispute that the printed coupon is headed for obsolescence. So when it comes to alarmist headlines and audacious industry predictions, don’t believe everything you read – and keep on clipping those coupons.

Image source: cpyles


  1. Nice story and way to set the record straight about some of the misleading headlines that have sloppily been posted by other publications. With >70% of all redemptions still being paper, it’s hard to believe anyone believes paper coupons are close to extinction!

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