Where Have all the Coupons Gone? Plus, How to Beat Inflation Anyway

The History of Clipping

In the 1970s retailers began offering discount coupons in an attempt to keep products moving off the shelves and into customer’s shopping bags. The marketing strategy proved effective. By 1999 the number of coupon’s issued annually had peaked at 340 billion.

Since then, however, this number has steadily fallen. Just 168 billion discount coupons were issued last year, down from 294 billion as of 2015. That includes the paper and digital variety. Consumers also seem less interested in using them. Per research done by Harvard and Georgetown economists, the coupon redemption rate checked in at 0.5% in 2020, after being up at 3.5% in the 1980s.

Explaining the Shift

Inflation is part of why groceries cost more these days. At the same time, people aren’t taking advantage of discounts offered through coupons. Moreover, stores have been less incentivized to offer price breaks in recent years due to the pandemic.

As COVID-19 and supply chain issues ensued, retailers had difficulty keeping shelves stocked. With products in short supply, there was little reason to offer price breaks — new items arrived and went right onto empty shelves.

Additionally, paper versions of many things are becoming less common. Stores have mobile apps that offer cash-back rewards, contest prices, and store credit points.

Digging into Digital Deals

In the past, many shoppers would use coupon mailings to search for deals and discounts. Now, customers browse digital catalogs in order to track sales. Large grocery store chains have apps where digital coupons can be “clipped.” Both Kroger (KR) and Publix offer discounts this way.

There are also third-party apps through which you can earn cash back. These include Ibotta, RetailMeNot, and Rakuten (RKUNY). With prices increasing in every aisle, it’s not a bad idea to check your local grocery’s physical and digital coupon options. While saving a few dollars might not seem like a big deal on an individual trip to the store, these amounts add up over the long term.

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James Flippin ABOUT James Flippin James Flippin is the son of a financial advisor who grew up hearing and learning about bond yields, interest rates, the stock market, and the ins and outs of Wall Street. After stints as a licensing and business broker for Marcus and Millichap in New York City, James moved into broadcasting and became a reporter and anchor. He covered crime, politics, finance, and tech at NBC News Radio while working part-time as a producer for SiriusXM. James graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics. He's also an accomplished podcaster with over 10-years of experience.

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