Rising food and commodity prices, combined with the economic downturn has led to an increased interest in coupons by consumers looking for a way to fight inflation and stretch their family budget. Fueling the recent coupon craze are popular television shows like “Extreme Couponing” on TLC, and the thousands of consumer-led couponing websites and message boards that have sprung up since the beginning of the recession.
Century-Old Marketing Technique
Manufacturers have been printing coupons and free product vouchers for over a century as a way to both entice new customers and keep current ones loyal to their brand. One of the first companies to issue coupons in the U.S. was the Coca-Cola Company, which in 1886 distributed free product coupons to pedestrians outside pharmacies to promote their new product. It is estimated that between 1886 and 1913, one in every nine Americans had enjoyed a free Coca Cola, for a total of about 8,500,000 complimentary drinks!
While manufacturers keep statistics about their ROI on retail coupons a closely guarded secret, clearly companies today know what Coca-Cola figured out over 100 years ago – coupons can be great for business.
Consumers Redeem Over One Million Dollars in Coupons Daily
Since then, the retail coupon industry has grown to become a multi-billion dollar industry in America, with 332 billion coupons valued at over $485 billion dollars distributed in 2010 throughout the U.S.
According to NCH Marketing Services Inc., shoppers saved about $3.7 billion dollars last year using coupons, a 5.7%, $200 million dollar increase over 2009 numbers.
The NCH Report also states:
-In 2010, the average face value of coupons increased 6.6% to $1.46.
-About one-quarter of all coupons issued required a multi-item purchase.
-The expiration dates on coupons were shortened by 14.2% from 2009 to an average of 9.1 weeks from date of issue.
-78.8% of survey respondents regularly used coupons, compared to 63.3% usage rates in 2007
Most importantly, NCH also reported a big increase in the number of online coupon offers, up 37% from 2009.
What About Extreme Couponing?
One of the most controversial trends in couponing has been the practice of “extreme couponing,” where consumers often devote over 10 hours daily to the pursuit of getting as many products as possible for the absolute minimum cost. Some people view these frugal extremists with envy, where others, like Washington Post reporter Hank Stuever, calls the practice “Deeply disturbing…a species of American consumer whose initial thrill at saving some money at the grocery store has triggered a new kind of crazy.”
Critics of extreme couponing also point out that there is an element of addiction involved that may not be healthy. Another concern is that many of these “extreme couponers” hoard the low-quality foods that many coupons discount to get maximum savings.
Are Coupons Worth It?
With almost 80% of American shoppers using coupons on a regular basis, it’s clear that coupons have become an integral part of the retail economy. Each consumer needs to decide what their time is worth when they determine the cost of collecting and redeeming coupons.