Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

March 31, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE DEATH OF COUPONS?....News you probably didn't know:

Americans took 3 billion coupons to retailers last year, a 33% drop from 2000, according to NCH Marketing Services Inc., a Deerfield, Ill.-based coupon processor. At the same time, the average coupon value has risen from 79 cents to 89 cents.

But now you do.

Kevin Drum 2:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Must be Friday. Cats any time now.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 31, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

The death of coupons?

I certainly hope so.

Posted by: craigie on March 31, 2006 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Awww, I kind of like coupons. I spend a few minutes clipping them out of the Sunday morning circular.

I don't use all of them. More than half of the ones I clip end up crumpled up and tossed away when they expire.

But if I play the game right, I can get certain items dirt cheap, and that makes the minor effort worthwhile.

If a store has a two-fer sale, and I have a good coupon, and the store does double coupons, I can get (say) ten boxes of cereal for under a buck each.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on March 31, 2006 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

This news is a bit surprising considering we have the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on March 31, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

this proves that we have won the war on terror.

can we get our peace dividend now?

Posted by: lib on March 31, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

It means that either:

1) The supermarket market space is less competitive than before.

2) Supermarkets have determined better ways of price discrimination.

The article made is sound more like 2. Anybody have any insights?

Posted by: Saam Barrager on March 31, 2006 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

This news is a bit surprising considering we have the worst economy since the Great Depression. Posted by: Yancey Ward

Were you born in 1985? If not, I guess you were really stoned in the mid- to late-1970s to make such a statement.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 31, 2006 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

2) Supermarkets have determined better ways of price discrimination.

The article made is sound more like 2. Anybody have any insights? Posted by: Saam Barrager

I pick number 2. Then, don't I always?

The economic "model" for grocery stores purports that it's an exceedingly low margin business. Assuming that "club cards" and the like are the norm across the country now for grocery chains, I would assume these are replacing coupons.

Did I already say it must be Friday? Here kitty-kitty. Here pussy-pussy. ("Stop that!")

Posted by: Jeff II on March 31, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

if you saw a quarter on the ground, would you pick it up?

Posted by: imbroglio on March 31, 2006 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

I hate coupons. And mail-in rebates. Can those die next, please?

Posted by: Tom DC/VA on March 31, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Coupons are the reason why I try as much as possible to avoid getting behind a woman in the supermarket checkout line. There's just too much of a risk that she'll have a thick wad of coupons, half of which are expired or are for the wrong items, and will spend several minutes haggling with the cashier. Men, at least those under retirement age, are much less likely to use coupons and hence they move through the line much more quickly.
Hey, I'm just calling things as I see them.

Posted by: Peter on March 31, 2006 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

I used to use coupons all the time in the 80s (when I was in my 20s), but then I discovered that even with double-discount offers, the couponed items were more expensive than other brands, on-sale brands or generic brands. My guess is the only thing that's changed is that more people have realized this. Coupons are and always have been a rip-off, yet another consumer bamboozlement of the poor.

Posted by: yellowdog on March 31, 2006 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

We rarely used coupons until my 12 year old asked if he could hunt for them, clip them, sort them, compare them to the shopping list, and make sure we had them when shopping. His idea was that he and we would split the savings. We tried it and it has worked pretty well. We save $10 or so per week and he earns his $10 instead of asking us for money.

Posted by: dwight Meredith on March 31, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Obviously individual store cards are killing coupons. Not only can the store owner monitor what you purchase and thus, ease the reordering process, but it also allows orwellian control. I can now buy shrimp at six dollars a pound, whereas, a non-card carrier will have to pay fourteen. I get a bargain, the store gets my personal information, and the non-carrier remains free.

Then there is the not so obvious benefit to the criminal community, that when lost and attached to your keys, the finder can call in and obtain your name and address. Works well all the way around.

Posted by: manowar on March 31, 2006 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

I pick #3. It's just getting too hard to find guest workers to do the clipping for me.

Posted by: shortstop on March 31, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

I almost never use coupons anymore. Even with coupons, brand names are generally more expensive than generics. Generics have improved in quality to the point where there's little reason to buy brand name paper products, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, etc. Even some generic foodstuffs (staples like rice, mac and cheese, canned/frozen veggies, etc) are okay these days. Gotta hold out for the brand name personal items and junk food, though - there is no substitute for a real Oreo.I also get discounts using my club cards. Coupons used to be especially valuable when combined with rebates - but there are very few good rebate offers out there these days. It's too bad - coupons used to bring out the hunter/gatherer in me. Nothing made me happier than using a coupon to buy somehting already on sale and then getting a rebate for it.

Posted by: Jersey Tomato on March 31, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

if you saw a quarter on the ground, would you pick it up? Posted by: imbroglio on March 31, 2006 at 3:04 PM

Depends on how drunk I was.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on March 31, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

One of the reasons for this is that there are fewer coupons for actual food items these days. Look through the coupon section of your Sunday paper, and you'll see that about 90% of the coupons are actually advertisements for credit cards, checks, the latest release from the Franklin Mint, etc.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on March 31, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

"if you saw a quarter on the ground, would you pick it up?"

Sure. But if I had to pry it loose from the pavement, file it in my wallet along with the other quarters that were only good for a specific item, then remember to spend it before it expired, I wouldn't do it again.

Posted by: Matt on March 31, 2006 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

Did anyone see the scene in the Sopranos this week of Paulie Walnuts clipping coupons after he had just ripped off a million bucks? It was pretty damn funny.

Posted by: BlalBlaBla on March 31, 2006 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

My subjective feeling about coupons is that they are mainly for highly processed foods that are loaded with corn syrup, bad fats, and weird additives; and rarely for basic foods like milk, meat, or beer.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on March 31, 2006 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

2) Supermarkets have determined better ways of price discrimination.

The article made is sound more like 2. Anybody have any insights?

Affinity-card programs (at grocery stores) and rebates (at drug stores, esp Rite-Aid and Longs in my neck of the woods---in the past year they've gone heavy into promoting with rebates, and fewer coupons and "on sale" price reductions).

Posted by: tom on March 31, 2006 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Explanation: Safeway's (and other markets) Member Card trumps coupons - although they accept both.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR on March 31, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Have you ever bought a loaf of bread, Kevin? How much, pray tell, does one cost?

Regardless, speaking as one who does the grocery shjopping, yes (as others said), it is the affinity card now. They even keep track of your year-to-date MEMBER savings and print the number out on the receipt.

I hate both, but of the two, I prefer the affinity card. Well, it's a love-hate relationship. Do you realize what an extreme incursion on privacy they are? The store knows everything you buy -- from anal suppositories to condoms to magazines, etc etc. There are no rules or contracts protect this information. They can do anything they want, including respoding to subpoenas from Homeland Security, ala Google.

That is a subject well worth discussing. It is a subject for (drum roll) SuperWonk Kevin Drum to
grab onto. I'm serious.

Posted by: Libby Sosume's evil self on March 31, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

I think part of the reason for the decline of coupons is that they have very short lives anymore. It used to be you could count on a coupon having an expiration date 6 months to a year in the future, now they're often measured in weeks. I suppose the key to keeping your privacy with the affinity cards is to provide someone else's name and phone number and address. Preferably a conservative's. ;-)

Posted by: Ian S on March 31, 2006 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose the key to keeping your privacy with the affinity cards is to provide someone else's name and phone number and address. Preferably a conservative's. ;-)

And then, just so they don't suspect you're not really a conservative, occasionally buy a case of motor oil, twelve rolls of duct tape and a meat hook. And Fritos. Lots of Fritos.

Posted by: shortstop on March 31, 2006 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Our supermarkets used to do Green Stamps. There were even Double Green Stamps days sometimes, proclaimed by big signs outside the stores. Now Green Stamps are dead, which is a blessing, given that you'd get them all the time and either have to file them and combine them later in some silly booklet, or else feel guilty if you couldn't be bothered.

Forcing customers to do busywork and jump through some useless hoops to save money is an asinine idea. I really do hope it is dying.

Posted by: jimBOB on March 31, 2006 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

WRT providing the wrong name for the affinity card, I think they don't really care what your name is as long as they have the same person using the same affinity card. They use the information for tracking what sorts of purchases go together,what buying patterns you do, that sort of thing. Your name doesn't matter to the store, your buying behavior does.

Posted by: jimBOB on March 31, 2006 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

if you saw a quarter on the ground, would you pick it up? Posted by: imbroglio

Only if I knew you were walking behind me.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 31, 2006 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

There is more to coupon-based economy than meets the eye. First, the increased use of "double coupon days" or even triple coupon days in some supermarkets in the Northeast lead to a significant change in coupon behavior both among consumers and among manufacturers. There are three trends that might be responsible for the changes Kevin mentioned. First, there is a rise of "do not double" coupons. Second, there is a trend of shortening the shelf-life of coupons--for example, a coupon that might have been good for six months a decade ago, might be good for six weeks today. Third, manufacturers have increased the use of bundling coupons, i.e. "Buy X, get Y free" and "Save $$$ off N". These also have the effect of reducing doubling because the former are specifically excluded from doubling and the latter are often higher in value exceeding the ceiling of doubling eligibility (usually $.99). The net results are that 1) consumers have less time to utilize the coupons, so often discover that the coupons have expired before being used up (both because of expectation of longer period of validity and because the bundling coupons reduce the frequency of necessary purchases) and 2) because customers feel cheated with undoubleable coupons.

See, there is a perfectly logical explanation!

Posted by: buck turgidson on March 31, 2006 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

I've never even been asked to actually fill out the form. I have cards for three different grocery stores and the checker at each just handed me the cards and said to turn in the form whenever. Not much of a privacy concern there.

Posted by: es on March 31, 2006 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

The coupon has been replaced by the "value club" that all supermarkets use to track buying patterns. I thought you guys were computer literate! That was old technology.

I knew a guy who made a fortune redeeming coupons. He bought them in bulk from supermarkets and took bales of them to Tijuana where he had Mexican workers sort them into the sets of specific offers, then redeemed them for the real value. That is how the markets get reimbursed by the manufacturer. He was the middleman.

His license plate was "Coupon."

Posted by: Mike K on March 31, 2006 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe coupons are dying because newspapers aren't doing so hot.

Posted by: Jon h on March 31, 2006 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

One poster throws it up:

"but then I discovered that even with double-discount offers, the couponed items were more expensive than other brands, on-sale brands or generic brands."

... and a second jams it home:

"they are mainly for highly processed foods that are loaded with corn syrup, bad fats, and weird additives; and rarely for basic foods like milk, meat, or beer."

There was somebody in the middle there, too. They are mostly incentives to buy something you probably shouldn't. Once upon a time there were a lot of the "stores own" coupons for it's own products, to get you in the door, but nowadays they're just big companies pushing their crap food.

Posted by: doesn't matter on March 31, 2006 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

It's coupon overload. Every week my mail box is stuffed to overfilled with coupons and flyers for things that I will never use or want. Almost all of this crap I throw out without ever looking at it; It is all junk mail. Over use of a good thing kills it.

Posted by: DaveA on April 1, 2006 at 3:47 AM | PERMALINK

Your name doesn't matter to the store, your buying behavior does.
Posted by: jimBOB

It's your Zip Code they want in any case. Your name is irrelevant.

We're not people; we're aggregates of consumer behavior based on our Zip Codes - tell 'em specifically where you live and they know pretty closely how much disposable income you have and what you are most likely to do with it.

The goods on offer will begin to reflect the clientele. Wealthier shoppers means the store can support higher end produce, for example.

There's also the fairly benign issue of tracking for inventory management involved which is extremely complex for modern grocery stores.

Posted by: CFShep on April 1, 2006 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

I wish my large chain grocery store would use my card to figure out that their produce buyer is on crack. The absence of fruits and vegetables from my purchases does not indicate I'm tomorrow's case of colon cancer; it means I walk across the street to the mom-and-pop greengrocer to buy several bags of beautiful unrotted produce for $10-15.

Posted by: shortstop on April 1, 2006 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

While the average value of coupons may have risen...

...Those aren't the average coupons. I'm flooded with coupons which cost more to produce and bring into stores than I'd save.

There are a few coupons which save lots - but most of those are free meals and discount steaks, and really, I don't need to 'save' $20 on a $50 steak or $500 on a $2000 TV every month.

Posted by: Crissa on April 1, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps people used coupons more during 2000 and 2001 because the economy was actually bad. Instead of now when liberals and the MSM believe and feel that it's bad.

No! That would be too simple an answer.

I blame Bush.

Posted by: Birkel on April 2, 2006 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

Birkel: "the economy" has been doing just fine, in the sense of corporate earnings and whatnot. But median income has been dropping for several straight years, and that tells you how "the economy" has been playing out in the lives of most people.

Don't take my word for it; it's in Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004, Table A-1.

Posted by: RT on April 3, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly