Americans trying to save on rising grocery bills have forgotten about an old standby: coupons.
For decades, American consumers clipped printed discounts to get a few cents off shopping cart items when budgets were tight. But the practice is dying out, and not even the pandemic, or the record grocery prices that accompanied it, have revived American interest in it.
“You could be even more time-constrained because of the pandemic,” said Alex McKay, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of a new study on coupon use. “You have extra household distractions or sick family members, and you have less time to shop. This is going to satisfy any potential urge to use coupons.
According to , American consumers started ditching coupons in the 1980s. the study (pdf), which was also conducted by researchers from the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics and Georgetown University. And even as use of their digital version has grown, overall coupon payments from 2006 to 2020 have halved to 1.1 billion.
Although data for the past few years is not yet available, researchers do not expect the trend to have changed.
Why Are Americans Skipping Coupons?
There are several reasons why coupons expire. According to the study, many Americans don’t pay much attention to the prices of everyday items, or notice small incremental markups over time, so they use coupons to offset those increases. don’t care
“We only know the brands we like, and those are the ones we buy week after week when we go to the store,” McKay said.
Among those who watch their money, there are many Not addicted to coupons. “There are certain habits that need to be developed in order to use them effectively,” McKay said.
Instead, consumers are taking digital coupons. One-third of shoppers who switched to cheaper brands in 2021 used them, according to research By Inmar Intelligence.
Companies are promoting more targeted coupons.
As shopping becomes more digital, it’s easier to target customers specifically for products they like. Instead of printing and distributing a bunch of coupons, companies are now using the data they have on their customers to promote items they already know they like.
Vivek Sankaran of Albertsons Companies said on the 2021 earnings call, “We are finding that our customers love personalized coupons, and this approach is driving broader and deeper engagement as well as increased purchases. “
With algorithms that predict what customers want to buy based on their past purchases, and apps that automatically apply discounts at checkout, It probably won’t be long before the trusty paper coupons die out entirely.