Make us your home page

After five years of strong growth, coupon use sees decline in first half of 2012

Morgan Watts, 29, searches websites for coupons and sale information. “My goal is to see a 50 percent savings at the bottom of my receipt,” she says, but that’s not so easy anymore. 


Morgan Watts, 29, searches websites for coupons and sale information. “My goal is to see a 50 percent savings at the bottom of my receipt,” she says, but that’s not so easy anymore. 

Morgan Watts takes couponing seriously. She stocks up on coupons from the Sunday newspaper and keeps track of weekly buy-one-get-one deals at Publix. She wouldn't dream of buying toothpaste, razors or frozen chicken nuggets without a coupon. Ever. • Last year, clipping coupons saved her $1,600 and helped offset a trip to Europe. Overall, it chopped her grocery bill in half. • Lately, she's lucky to save 30 percent.

"To me, that's awful," she said. "My goal is to see a 50 percent savings at the bottom of my receipt. It has dropped dramatically."

The 29-year-old newlywed from Tampa blames the decline on shorter expiration periods and tighter redemption rules. A Pringles coupon that used to promote a dollar off three cans now requires her to buy four. And those Dove coupons she loved to match with BOGO deals? They seem to always expire before the soap goes on sale.

Watts' observations are right on the money. Manufacturer coupons aren't as attractive as they used to be. Shoppers redeemed so many that brands had to scale back promotions because they were costing too much. In short, coupons became too successful.

The latest figures prove the point. Redemption is down 11 percent for the first half of 2012, according to Inmar, a promotion services company for manufacturers and retailers that publishes an annual coupon trend report. That follows a 35 percent increase between 2006 and 2011.

Matthew Tilley, director of marketing for the Inmar Promotion Network, said several factors are in play, from an improving unemployment rate to a growing interest in generic brands and discount stores. Brands are distributing fewer coupons and lowering the face value. They are also shrinking the redemption period, which now averages 2.1 months.

"Consumers are still very interested in a deal, but the brands haven't put as many offers out there and they aren't as attractive," Tilley said.

Coupon use surged during the recession as cash-strapped shoppers looked for ways to pinch pennies. People who had never used a coupon grabbed for the scissors. Once the domain of frugal moms, couponing became mainstream — even cool.

Next came reality TV. Extreme couponers wowed viewers with ways to get $250 worth of groceries for $3.79. Everyone wanted to get in the game.

Ashley Meyer, 25, has been couponing for six years and teaches classes on how to maximize savings. A former Tampa resident who now lives in Jacksonville, she buys several copies of the Sunday paper and checks online coupon sites a few times a day. She never pays full price.

Changes in coupons and store policies have curbed a lot of the deep discounting, she said. Shoppers can still get great savings; it just takes more time.

"For true couponers, it's made us rethink our game plan," she said. "We can't just go to Publix. We have to go to Target and Walmart. It's a little more work and you have to drive farther. But it's worth it when you can save your family hundreds of dollars."

Coupon clipping dates back to 1888, when Cola-Cola started distributing free drink tickets to promote its new product. In 1909, coupons achieved widespread use when C.W. Post offered penny coupons to market Grape Nuts cereal.

Today coupons are big business. About 311 billion were distributed last year, the bulk through newspaper inserts, but others through magazines, direct mail and print-at-home online sources.

While about 0.5 percent of newspaper insert coupons are redeemed at checkouts, the cost to a manufacturer can quickly multiply. A brand that circulates 50 million coupons valued at $1 each could face more than $250,000 in redemptions, not including the handling fee for the grocery stores and cost of designing and distributing the coupons. By comparison, printable online coupons have a higher redemption rate — about 7.7 percent in 2011.

As consumers' appetite for coupons has grown, more manufacturers have exceeded their coupon budgets, said Henri Lellouche, senior vice president of News America Marketing, which publishes the SmartSource weekly inserts. As a result, some brands have had to reduce their coupon distribution or rethink campaigns.

"Their budgets have really been strained," he said. "They end up having more redemption liability than they expected."

Manufacturers use coupons to promote sales of frequently purchased household items, such as frozen pizza, cereal and pet food. They add incentives for trying new products and reward customers for loyalty.

They can be sneaky, too. It's no coincidence that a new coupon for peanut butter comes out right before you're about to run out. Manufacturers space out promotions based on the average consumption time.

Coupons may be evolving, but they aren't going away. Coupon distributor Catalina Marketing sees shoppers gravitating toward online, mobile and load-to-loyalty card coupons. Particularly successful are "point-of-sale" coupons printed at the grocery checkout based on the shopper's latest purchase.

"Consumers are more powerful today than they have ever been in the marketplace," said Susan Gear, group vice president of strategic initiatives for Catalina, which is based in St. Petersburg and launched in late 2010. "They are wanting to be rewarded for their loyalty, and those rewards come in different forms. Coupons are one of those forms that are very popular."

After five years of strong growth, coupon use sees decline in first half of 2012 09/07/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 7, 2012 10:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. McMansions, state sewage order on tap at St. Petersburg City Council

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council is set Thursday to vote on two major issues: controversial zoning changes aimed at curbing big McMansion-style homes and a consent order with the state that will require St. Petersburg to fix its ailing sewage system.

    Two big, blocky homes on the 2300 block of Dartmouth, Ave N under construction in April. Several new homes under construction.
in St. Petersburg's Historic Kenwood Neighborhood are too big, residents complain. The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday is set to consider ordinances aimed at curbing the construction of big "McMansions." [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  2. Tom James and wife, Mary, talk about their James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — As a child, businessman and philanthropist Tom James loved cowboy movies, an affinity that would later play out in a vast collection of Western art amassed over the years with his wife, Mary.

    Tom and Mary James at the site of the Tom and Mary James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.
Photo courtesy of Raymond James
  3. A reliable Rick Scott ally, Pete Antonacci, named CEO of Enterprise Florida

    State Roundup

    Pete Antonacci, who last week made headlines when he advised scientists to stay in their lane rather than criticize his water agency's work on Everglades restoration, is getting a new job.

    Pete Antonacci, an attorney seen here in 2009, has served many roles for Gov. Rick Scott: general counsel, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District and now, CEO of Enterprise Florida.  [
COLIN HACKLEY | Special to the Times]
  4. Pinellas County budget on the rise thanks to high property values

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– After another year of growth, Pinellas County commissioners won't have to fight to pay for critical needs in the 2017-2018 budget.

    The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday learned the first details of its $2.3 billion spending plan for next fiscal year, which includes funding for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Tampa Bay chefs go head to head and Disney Springs gets another James Beard winner

    Food & Dining

    Epic Chef Showdown: Feeding Tampa Bay

    In a shoulder-to-shoulder format cook-off competition, chefs from Parkshore Grill and Mise En Place strove Monday night to become the Epic Chef of Tampa Bay. In this course, using ramen as a mystery box ingredient.