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With inflation a persistent problem in the grocery store, interest in coupons is perking up – so much so, that one survey now finds the deal-seeking behavior is at an all-time, post-pandemic high. But “looking for” coupons and “finding” coupons to use, aren’t quite the same thing.

The latest monthly consumer survey from the retail data analytics company 84.51° has found that nearly three out of four shoppers are now trying to take advantage of promotions to help make a dent in their rising grocery bills. When asked what changes they have made to their shopping habits, 71% now say they are looking for more coupons and deals – the highest percentage since 84.51° started asking that question earlier this year – up from 65% last month and just 56% at the beginning of 2022.

So after years of declining coupon use and declining coupon availability that have gone hand-in-hand, the latest survey results indicate that shoppers are interested in using coupons again. The question is whether they’re having success in finding and redeeming them.

This year alone, coupons for food – the most in-demand grocery purchases – sunk to an all-time low. Many brands have been cutting back on widely-distributed printed coupons in favor of fewer, targeted digital offers. And the popular Procter & Gamble brandSAVER coupon insert is going away altogether.

So shoppers may say they’re looking for more coupons. But some might find that their search isn’t so easy.

It’s been half a year since 84.51° last asked how that quest for coupons is actually going. So there is no newer information than there was back in June, when 38% of those surveyed said it’s “much harder to find coupons/deals for the items they typically buy,” and more than half said they’ve noticed there are fewer items on sale.

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84.51°’s parent company, Kroger, says those who want deals, just have to know where to look.

Kroger shoppers are “being much more aggressive on downloading digital coupons and engaging with some of our promotional offers,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen told investors earlier this month. Digital coupon downloads are currently 32% higher than last year. And last quarter, he said digital coupon use “hit an all-time high, with 750 million digital offers downloaded, totaling almost $1 billion in savings.”

Digital proponents often point to the rise in digital coupon use to show that there are plenty of savings out there, and plenty of shoppers taking advantage of them. And indeed, 84.51°’s survey found that half of shoppers search for digital coupons while they’re shopping. But there are far fewer digital coupons distributed or redeemed today than there were paper coupons available back in the day. Plus, most digital coupons can only be used once, and many of them are personalized and not offered to everyone.

So digital coupon use is indeed rising – but largely because that’s simply where many of the coupons are these days. It’s just not rising fast enough to offset the years-long decline in paper coupon use.

So that means many coupon-seeking shoppers are still looking. While 38% of shoppers told 84.51° that they plan on using more coupons this month than they did last month, their favorite way to save on groceries is “stocking up when things are on sale.” Others are cutting back on nonessentials, switching to lower-cost brands, or purchasing fewer items.

Some have suggested that declining coupon distribution is driving down coupon redemption – after all, the fewer coupons there are, the fewer coupons shoppers can use. Others argue it’s the other way around – manufacturers are offering fewer coupons because fewer people are interested in using them.

Persistent inflation might upend that latter theory. For shoppers who’ve gotten out of the habit – or never got into the habit – of clipping and clicking, couponing may be well on its way to becoming cool again.

Image source: Kroger

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