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Let’s face it, the past few years haven’t been great for couponers. First, Covid shook up our shopping habits, then supply chain problems led to fewer promotions, and now inflation has us all spending more and getting less.

But 2022 hasn’t been all bad, has it? You may not be able to get 62 bottles of mustard for free like in the old days (and do people who did that in the old days still have some of those bottles left?) But you can still save money with coupons if you keep at it, and you can still become a smarter shopper if you keep up with Coupons in the News!

So in that spirit, we usher 2022 out the door with a look at the biggest couponing stories of the year, many of which will impact your couponing in 2023 and beyond.

10. One decade and counting for Coupons in the News

Ok, let’s get the self-promotional stuff out of the way first. There wouldn’t be a Coupons in the News year in review if there wasn’t a Coupons in the News in the first place – or if there weren’t people like yourself reading it.

This very website marked its tenth anniversary in 2022. It’s a little cringey reading some of those early articles from 2012, which were inexplicably about things like corned beef, Canadian nickels and making fun of ordering groceries online, as though people would actually do such a thing someday.

But somewhere along the line, things got rolling, the news got more notable, the readers started coming, and thousands of articles and millions of pageviews later, here we are.

As a topper, Coupons in the News was honored this year by the Association of Coupon Professionals industry group, with an award for individuals or companies “that significantly contribute to the enhancement of the coupon industry,” for the site’s work in providing “a platform for industry professionals and consumers to learn about breaking coupon industry news for over a decade.”

There wouldn’t be much point in doing any of this if no one was reading it. So thanks go to you as well, for making it possible to keep this site going for ten years and counting.

9. Rewarding your loyalty is looking different

Stores have loyalty programs, so why not brands? Some brands do – but far fewer of them do now.

Kellogg this year became the latest company to shut down a long-running customer loyalty program, announcing the end of its decade-old Kellogg’s Family Rewards. The program officially ends on Saturday, though you can still redeem rewards until January 15.

The program’s demise follows the end of similar brand loyalty programs from the likes of Coke, Pepsi and L’Oreal. These days, rather than running its own standalone program, a brand is more likely to piggyback on a third-party rewards app like General Mills did this year with Fetch Rewards, joining other brands on the platform like Huggies and Pepsi.

In Kellogg’s case, though, it’s not just the KFR loyalty program but the entire company that’s going away, as Kellogg prepares to split into three standalone companies next year. So if you haven’t claimed your final reward, you have a couple more weeks to do so – and just think, someday that KFR tote bag might even become a collector’s item.

8. Consumers decry digital discrimination

Who needs paper coupons and printed promotions – everyone loves digital deals now, right?

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Not exactly. Paper proponents’ quiet grumblings turned louder this year, as a coalition of consumer groups went public with their concerns that digital-only deals are discriminatory against those who aren’t digitally-savvy. They urged retailers to ensure that they offer workarounds for seniors or lower-income shoppers who don’t have the means to download a digital offer in order to get a discount.

And their message apparently struck a nerve, earning widespread media attention. What it didn’t immediately earn was much of a response from most retailers, much less a change in their policies. So this digital divide is one that has yet to be bridged.

7. Coupon crime (usually) doesn’t pay

As long as there are coupons offering discounts, there will be criminals for whom no legitimate coupon discount is large enough. As always, this year saw its share of audacious coupon crimes, ranging from counterfeiting coupons, misusing legitimate coupons or just plain stealing coupons.

The largest coupon crime case of the year involved a California woman convicted of creating and selling nearly $10 million worth of fraudulent Catalina coupons. She faces up to 20 years in prison at her sentencing hearing, which is currently scheduled for February. A Massachusetts couple was later convicted of creating and selling more than a million dollars worth of coupons. And a notable coupon insert theft case neared a conclusion this year, when a family of three pleaded guilty for stealing and selling coupon inserts from a local newspaper.

But one major coupon crime case didn’t go as law enforcement likely had hoped. Due to what was essentially a legal technicality, a criminal case fell apart against multiple accused members of an alleged multimillion-dollar coupon, discount and return fraud scheme at Target. Prosecutors are vowing to press on with their investigation, but for now, all of the accused are in the clear. Don’t tell would-be fraudsters – but sometimes, unfortunately, (alleged) crime really can pay.

6. Grocery mega-merger in the works

This one is not strictly coupon-related, but it will sure have an effect on couponers – and everyone who works or shops at the country’s two largest traditional grocery retailers.

Kroger and Albertsons this year announced plans to merge, in what would be one of the largest deals of its kind in retail history. On their own, each chain is already the closest thing this country has to a national traditional grocery chain. Together, a combined Kroger-Albertsons would become a coast-to-coast powerhouse, rivaling superstore chains like Walmart.

While couponers wonder which retailer’s coupon policies and loyalty program might survive the merger, both retailers are promising a combined company would mean lower prices for shoppers. Some lawmakers aren’t so sure about that, though. And federal regulators will have the final say on whether the deal can actually go through. Kroger and Albertsons hope to have an answer – by 2024.

5. Ibotta puts a stop to (some) stacking

When cash-back apps burst onto the scene a decade or so ago, their biggest selling point among couponers was that their discounts could be stacked with coupons for extra savings. This double-dip discount became so popular, that a number of apps that tried to disallow stacking quickly found themselves out of business.

Ibotta, one of the oldest and most successful rebate apps, never seemed concerned about the practice – until this year. Late this summer, Ibotta fans were surprised to find that some of their rebate submissions were being rejected, after several brands added new anti-stacking provisions to their offers’ small print. The changes came a month after Ibotta and Walmart launched “Walmart Rewards,” in which Walmart offers Ibotta rebates on its platforms that also can’t be combined with coupons or other offers.

In most cases, stacking Ibotta offers and coupons is still perfectly fine. But the fact that in at least some cases it’s not anymore, has some savers worried that someday, it could become either one or the other – and not both.

4. Couponing just keeps getting tougher

Wouldn’t it be nice if just one year, one entry in one of these year-end lists declared that this was the year that couponing bounced back, coupon values soared and there were plenty of coupons available for everything you wanted to buy?

Maybe someday. But not this year. It used to be that every time the economy took a turn for the worse, more shoppers turned to coupons, and more brands met that need by offering more coupons. This year, though, inflation-weary shoppers’ increasing interest in coupons hasn’t been matched by an increasing supply of them. That means fewer shoppers are using coupons, which makes brands less likely to offer them. And so on.

There Are Now Fewer Food Coupons – Or Any Coupons – Than Ever,” one Coupons in the News story read this year. Others included “Coupon Use Sinks to Historic Lows,” “Shoppers Wonder Where the Deals Have Gone,” and “Consumers Are At A Tipping Point As Grocery Prices Keep Rising.”

There was no headline reading “Couponing Bounces Back!” But with any luck – maybe in 2023.

3. Big changes to Target’s coupon policy

You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs – and you can’t solve coupon fraud without inconveniencing some customers.

That was Target’s thinking as it implemented a major change to the way it validates coupons this year. Every coupon scanned in stores is now validated against a master file of known, legitimate coupons. If the coupon isn’t in that file – the register won’t accept it.

Sounds great, but not every manufacturer’s coupon is in that master file. So if a known, legitimate coupon from a nonparticipating brand is scanned, the register won’t accept that either.

Target promises that employees will manually review rejected coupons and push them through as needed. But many customers have complained that isn’t always happening. Ultimately, the idea is to push nonparticipating brands to participate in the master file program, so their customers aren’t inconvenienced by having their coupons rejected.

Or, shoppers can do as one brand suggested, and “try using the coupon at Walgreens or Walmart” instead.

So Target may be protecting itself against coupon fraudsters, at the possible risk of turning legitimate couponers away. No one ever said solving coupon fraud would be easy.

2. Coupons.com gets a new lease on life

More than two decades ago, an upstart promotions company spent a reported $2.2 million – a then-record amount – to acquire the website Coupons.com. Then it promptly changed its corporate name to Coupons.com as well. This year, the since-renamed Quotient Technology moved on, announcing the sale of the website it had once built its business around.

To shoppers who still like print-at-home coupons, a sale was far preferable to a shutdown – which seemed possible earlier this year, when Quotient announced it would be reintroducing its Shopmium cash-back app and retiring Coupons.com by the end of this year. Instead, the European company GSG will own the site, and Quotient will continue to provide the offers, when the transaction is complete sometime next year.

By itself, the planned demise, then resurrection, of the internet’s leading printable coupon site would have been one of the top stories of the year. But this surprise development capped what was already a tumultuous year for Quotient, in which a shareholder revolt led to the company’s founder and longtime CEO stepping down, as the company continues to defend itself against ongoing lawsuits from a competitor and a former client.

“Paper coupons, which include print-at-home coupons, will go the way of the dinosaur and the dodo bird before too terribly long,” Quotient’s former CEO once told Coupons in the News. Long live the dinosaur and the dodo, then, as print-at-home coupons have apparently gotten a death-row reprieve.

1. P&G’s brandSAVER bows out

A quarter-century ago, Procter & Gamble tried eliminating paper coupons in parts of the country, and a consumer revolt forced an end to the experiment. This year, P&G announced the retirement of its long-running paper coupon insert, and couponers reacted with sadness but nothing remotely resembling a consumer revolt.

That’s because, as shocking as the demise of a major Sunday newspaper coupon insert is – enough to make it the top coupon story of the year – in some ways it’s not surprising at all. The traditional coupon insert, which marked a milestone 50th anniversary this year, has seen better days. As newspaper distribution declines and digital adoption rises, several brands have stopped offering coupons in the Sunday inserts altogether. SmartSource this fall deviated from its planned publication schedule for the first time in years, canceling two scheduled inserts in a row, raising questions about whether demand for its product had dipped that low.

P&G has responded to the declining influence of paper coupon inserts by pulling the plug. The publishers of SmartSource and Save have responded to the declining influence of paper coupon inserts by doubling down on promoting them, and letting couponers know when they can look forward to receiving them throughout 2023.

Ha, just kidding! The publishers of SmartSource and Save have decided against promoting their products, by declining to publicize their 2023 insert schedules. For the first time in the history of Coupons in the News, both publishers have chosen not to share their publication schedules for the upcoming year. “We are not in the position to share the 2023 schedule,” Dave Darovitz, spokesman for Save publisher Vericast, told Coupons in the News. Bill Redmond, CEO of SmartSource publisher Neptune Retail Solutions, put it more brusquely: “If we have info to share we will publish it ourselves.”

It’s a curious tack to take, in response to abiding consumer interest in a coupon format that’s clearly in decline. Could the reluctance to share mean there might not actually be full insert schedules at all for 2023? “In 2023, we will continue to produce and deliver the Save FSI where it matters most for our clients,” Vericast said in a statement, though “in 2023” is not quite the same as “throughout 2023.” Neptune didn’t offer a statement because, as we now know, if they have info to share, they will publish it themselves.

What we do know is that, for the first time in two decades, P&G won’t be publishing a brandSAVER coupon insert anymore. If you want a paper P&G coupon, you’ll have to look in one of the other publishers’ inserts. Whenever they might show up.

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And that is a look at the major coupon news you may remember – or may have missed – in 2022. And many of these stories were reported first, or only, on Coupons in the News. So don’t miss out on any coupon news in the new year – be sure to bookmark this site, become a Facebook fan, follow @couponinthenews on Twitter or subscribe to the daily emailed newsletter. And keep in touch with any comments, questions or tips by sending an email anytime.

There’s still more to come this week, including a look ahead to some major events happening in the year ahead, plus a preview of the first coupon inserts of the year. But in the meantime, thank you for your loyal readership over the past year, and the past decade, and have a happy 2023!

Image source: Eyestetix Studio on Unsplash

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