2023 may be remembered as the year that inflation really took a bite out of our grocery budgets. Could it also be remembered as the year that coupons finally started to get just a little better?

Saving money with coupons has become more difficult in recent years, especially as prices have gone up and coupons and promotions haven’t kept pace. But there were indications this year that the worst may be behind us.

That’s the good news. But other events this year might have you looking back at 2023 reminiscing about how good things used to be.

So before we head into the new year, it’s time for our annual look at the year gone by. Here are the most notable coupon news stories of 2023, many of which you read first – or only – right here on Coupons in the News:

10. Where are the coupon inserts?

Well, couponing has certainly been difficult if you still rely on your Sunday newspaper to get your coupons. Printed newspaper coupon inserts as we know them celebrated their 50th anniversary last year. But they’ve been getting more sporadic and a lot thinner this year.

We’re currently in the midst of a three-week stretch with no insert coupons at all, for the first time in decades, if not ever. And a week from Sunday, the insert publishers are scheduled to return with just a single issue each, after many years of double or even triple editions to kick off the new year.

In 2023, there were a total of 12 weekends with no coupon inserts, up from just four last year. That’s partly due to the fact that Procter & Gamble pulled out of the insert business, publishing its final brandSAVER at the beginning of the year. Unilever’s occasional Super Saver faded away with much less fanfare earlier this year as well.

Sunday insert coupons had long represented roughly 90% of all coupons distributed each year. But according to research from Inmar Intelligence, at the midpoint of this year, that percentage slumped to just 75.9%, while insert coupons represented an all-time low of just 6.7% of all coupons redeemed.

There’s always digital! And that is indeed where many coupons are headed. But for traditionalists, it can be hard to watch coupon inserts’ prominence continue its long, slow decline that, this year, seemed to accelerate a whole lot more.

9. Catalina, the comeback company

In a day of digital everything, isn’t it nice to know you can still get paper coupons handed to you at the store when checking out?

To couponers, the name Catalina is still synonymous with those checkout coupons. These days, the company does a lot more in the digital realm. But diversifying hasn’t been easy. For the second time in less than five years, the company filed for, and later emerged from, Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year in order to implement a court-supervised financial restructuring plan. The company subsequently named its eighth CEO in just the past dozen years, and settled a years-long legal dispute with a competitor who lured away a major Catalina client.

So Catalina lives on, as do its eponymous coupons, 40 years after its founding. During a time of great change for the industry, you can’t say this company isn’t a survivor.

8. Dollar General’s difficulties

Who’s scamming whom – are Dollar General couponers taking advantage of the retailer, or is the retailer pulling one over on Dollar General shoppers? Both were kind of true this year, but the dollar store chain is trying to ensure that neither occurs again.


Just this month, Dollar General shut down its DG Pickup buy-online-pick-up-in-store service. The official reason was that the retailer decided customers preferred to use a delivery service instead. But Dollar General could not have been unaware that DG Pickup was the platform of choice for coupon glitchers who frequently took advantage of pricing errors, while making overworked employees do their shopping for them.

Separately, Dollar General has spent much of the year defending itself from – and occasionally settling – numerous lawsuits filed by local governments and individual shoppers, accusing the retailer of advertising one price at the shelf, while charging a higher price at the register.

The company’s CEO is vowing to improve. So if overworked employees can get a break, overcharged shoppers can see more accurate prices, and coupon glitchers can do their glitching somewhere else, Dollar General just might be a better, cleaner, easier and cheaper place to shop in the new year.

7. Self-checkout under attack

One of the improvements Dollar General is promising, is more cashiers and fewer self-checkouts. And it’s not the only one doing so.

Hot-button topic that it is, self-checkout is often simplified in the news media. If one retailer announces plans to install more self-checkouts, it’s the end of humanity as we know it! If one retailer decides to remove self-checkouts, it’s the end of self-checkout as we know it!

It’s far too soon to dismiss self-checkout as a failed experiment (though some have). But this year has indeed proven to be something of a self-checkout tipping point, as backlash against the technology has grown, and retailers have grown tired of self-checkout users abusing coupons and stealing stuff.

Walmart has been deploying more staff to “assist” self-checkout users, taking the “self” out of self-checkout in the process. Retailers including Target and ShopRite have imposed limits on how many items you’re allowed to scan yourself. And a Rhode Island lawmaker introduced a bill that would force retailers to give you a discount for scanning your own items.

Self-checkout isn’t dead. But decades after its introduction, the love-it-or-hate-it debate is as timely as ever.

6. Coupon criminals pay the price

Coupon crime is a mainstay on this annual list. But compared to some past years, it seems coupon crime wasn’t quite so bad in 2023?

The story of two Massachusetts women accused of using about $26,000 worth of counterfeit coupons was perhaps the most notorious coupon crime story of the year. But $26,000 is chump change compared to previous counterfeit cases where the losses stretched into the tens of millions.

Most of the coupon crime stories this year were follow-ups to coupon crime stories from previous years, like the trio of coupon insert thieves who found out their fate, the husband-and-wife counterfeiting team ordered to part with half a million dollars, and the reseller sentenced to hard labor. And, most recently, the convicted counterfeiter who’s now seeking to reduce her eight-figure restitution order and her 12-year prison sentence.

So if a $26,000 counterfeit coupon case was the worst 2023 could bring, it was a pretty good year. Would-be coupon criminals may finally be getting the message that coupon crime doesn’t really pay.

5. Bed Bath & Bankrupt

A company executive called it “one of the greatest retail coupons of all time.” But the big blue Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off coupon became a relic this year, as the retailer went out of business for good.

But now it’s back! Sort of. Overstock bought the Bed Bath & Beyond name, rebranded its business, and now offers 20% off coupon codes for its online-only store.

The transition hasn’t been easy – the CEO who engineered the rebrand and the rebirth of the Bed Bath & Beyond name was ousted last month. And the company is still trying to show it can succeed in reversing Overstock’s declining online sales by adopting the identity of a failed physical retailer.

But at least “one of the greatest retail coupons of all time” lives on – for at least a little while longer.

4. Coupons.com is no more. Long live the new Coupons.com!

First, Quotient Technology sold its flagship property Coupons.com. Then, this year, it sold itself.

The earliest version of Quotient’s Coupons.com printable coupon site launched a quarter-century ago. But as the company shifted its focus to digital ads and promotions, the future of its printable coupon site was in doubt. Ultimately, it sold Coupons.com in a transaction that was finalized this year, then the company itself was sold to Neptune Retail Solutions, best known to couponers as the owner of the SmartSource brand.

The new owners of Coupons.com have kept it going seamlessly. And so far, there have been no changes in the most significant area of Neptune-Quotient overlap, as Neptune-owned cash-back app Checkout 51 and Quotient-owned Shopmium continue to coexist. So the transition has been mostly invisible to shoppers, who can still get their cash back and printable coupons as before. But for a pioneer in the coupon world, 2023 will be remembered as the year Quotient’s run as an independent company devoted to printable coupons reached its expiration date.

3. Coupons make a comeback

How low can we go? When it comes to coupons, this may have been the year we found out.

Anyone who remembers couponing in the Extreme Couponing era knows how challenging couponing has become since then. The number of coupons available, and consequently, the number of coupons redeemed have been plummeting for years, with no end to the freefall in sight.

But early indications this year are that coupon use, coupon values and coupon availability – in digital form – are finally starting to rise. Inmar Intelligence reported that the total number of coupons available in the first half of this year was up from the same time last year. There were more digital coupons, after their growth flatlined the year before. And the average coupon value rose at a higher rate than inflation.

If these trends hold true once data from the back half of the year become available, coupons may finally be coming back – just when we need them the most.

2. Walmart’s coupon crackdown

Walmart doesn’t have digital coupons, or store coupons, or double coupons, but it’s long had one of the more generous coupon policies around. Not quite so much anymore, though.

The world’s largest retailer this year finally cracked down on couponers’ favorite perk: overage. Before, if your coupon was worth more than the product you bought, you’d get the difference applied to your order or as cash back. Now, your discount can’t be greater than the cost of the product, period.

That was the biggest coupon policy change this year, but there were other notable updates at other stores. Target no longer refunds you the value of any coupons used to buy a product that you later return. CVS updated its systems to no longer let recently-expired coupons through. And ShopRite and Walmart won’t allow cashiers to push through coupons that don’t scan correctly.

Coupons themselves may be getting a little better. But policy changes can sometimes make couponing just a little bit harder.

1. Bridging couponing’s digital divide

Last year, the debate about “digital discrimination” at the grocery store was something of a curiosity. This year, things got real.

As advocates got louder in their concerns about the unfairness of digital-only coupons and deals to the digitally-disconnected, retailers – and lawmakers – started to listen. A New Jersey state legislator introduced a bill – which could soon become law – requiring stores to offer in-store alternatives to digital-only discounts. That got the ball rolling, as several other states introduced similar bills, including one that could require stores to apply all digital coupons to your transaction automatically. Even a member of the U.S. Congress is now considering whether nationwide regulations might be appropriate.

And, go figure, amid all this government interest, stores that had refused to respond to consumer groups calling for change, suddenly started revising their policies. Kroger will apply digital coupons to your order upon request if you don’t have the ability to clip them yourself. And Stop & Shop is installing coupon kiosks where you can load offers to your account right there in the store.

Some might argue we’re in a digital age, and shoppers who can’t or won’t adapt are simply disadvantaging themselves. But that argument apparently isn’t convincing lawmakers who are looking to take a consumer-friendly stand that will be popular with the folks back home. Ultimately, the message to those offering digital deals is: if they don’t address the digital divide themselves, then the politicians will be happy to do it for them.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

And that’s where things stand as we wrap up 2023, with several cliffhangers yet to be resolved – will coupons really continue getting better as inflation eases? Will Sunday coupon inserts hang in there for another year? Will a slew of new laws end up regulating how and in what form coupons are offered?

If and when any of that happens, you’ll read about it right here on Coupons in the News. So be sure to bookmark this site, become a Facebook fan, follow @couponinthenews on X (Twitter) or subscribe to the daily emailed newsletter. And do keep in touch with any comments, questions or news tips by sending an email anytime.

In the meantime, happy holidays, thank you for your local readership this year, and watch for more news right here this week before we ring in 2024!

Image source: Chris Potter

Comments are closed.

Privacy Policy
Disclosure Policy