Computer technology fueling coupon trend

Carmen Musick • Oct 31, 2009 at 12:00 AM

There was a time when Mount Carmel’s Elaine Riner couldn’t understand why her mother would spend hours every Sunday afternoon, sprawled out on the floor, looking for and clipping coupons to save 50 cents.

But, as they say, times change.

Now a mother herself, Riner understands that every little bit really does count and that 50 cents here and 50 cents there can add up to some real savings — especially in tough economic times.

“I specifically remember my mom sitting down on Sunday afternoon and spending an hour or two hours with the paper sprawled out on the floor, looking for coupons. But it was frustrating for me. I was like, ‘Why are we spending all this time looking for these just to save 55 cents?’ It just didn’t seem worth it,” Riner said.

Today, though, with a family of her own including a young son and a full-time job, Riner has a whole new respect for her mother’s efforts. What she doesn’t have is the time to emulate them. Luckily, in today’s technologically advanced world, that’s becoming less and less of an issue.

Thanks to new marketing strategies including mass mailings and printable online coupons, today’s consumers can reap many of the same rewards their parents did in a lot less time — and studies show they’re taking advantage of it.

Earlier this year, Valassis (one of the nation’s leading media and marketing services companies) released research conducted by its subsidiary, NCH Marketing Services Inc., offering new insight into consumer-saving habits and manufacturer coupon trends during these recessionary times.

The research showed that consumer packaged goods (CPG) coupon redemption during the fourth quarter of 2008 increased a dramatic 16.7 percent compared to the previous quarter. And CPG marketers have taken note. Coupons distributed during the first half of 2009 have increased 12 percent to the point that there’s now an estimated 158 billion coupons floating around. The number of coupons redeemed increased 19 percent in the first half of 2009, with the biggest boom coming in online coupon activity.

“Challenges in the economy are most definitely influencing manufacturers and consumers as it relates to both distribution and redemption,” said Suzie Brown, Valassis chief marketing officer. “Every trend indicates these current buying and saving habits will continue to increase and value seeking will become a cornerstone of shopping behavior in the future.”

Though the Internet represents less than 1 percent of all coupons printed, online coupon distribution grew faster than any other medium, up more than 80 percent, according to the report. Likewise, redemption volume of online coupons increased nearly 130 percent to 4.8 percent of all CPG coupons redeemed in 2008.

“These trends tell us that marketers are using the Internet more and more to reach consumers with coupons, and consumers, especially in current economic times, are responding at an increasing pace to Internet coupons,” said Charles Brown, NCH vice president of marketing.

Riner is one of the consumers helping to drive those statistics, and believes other busy moms — and dads, as the case may be — would also find online coupons an easy route to savings.

“I can’t just sit there for an hour or two and go through [the coupons] like [my mom] did. I don’t have the time for that,” Riner said.

“But, since things have gone up in price and everyone’s purse strings are getting tighter, I think we’re all constantly looking for ways to save a buck. If I am not saving as much as I can, then I’m not doing my son and my family the best I can do as far as finances go,” she said.

Riner estimates she can save close to $500 a year by spending just a few minutes each week on coupon Web sites.

“I print them out, cut them out and I’m gone. It’s actually easier than people think,” she said.

But there are ways to make sure your couponing goes as far as possible towards saving you money.

Stacey McClure of Piney Flats, the self-proclaimed queen of penny pinching, says one trick to maximizing savings with manufacturer’s coupons — especially for items you don’t need right away — is to hold on to them for a week or two.

“Most of the time, manufacturers send out coupons to get you to try their product. Then, a couple weeks later, they will put the same product on sale to get the repeat business,” McClure said. “If you wait until it goes on sale AND you have a coupon, you could wind up getting some products for a little bit of nothing!”

McClure shares these and other money-saving tips, as well as hot deals and links to weekly sales’ papers, on her Web site at www.tricitiespennypincher.com.

Another local venue that’s generating a lot of buzz among bargain hunters is the discussion forums on the new www.tricitymom.com. Riner, one of the moderators for the forums, said moms are sharing information about hot deals, discount codes, couponing and bargains.

“That’s proving to be a very nice way of sharing deals and discounts,” Riner said, pointing to a discount code she found there this week offering valuable savings at a local retailer as one prime example.

Because there’s no shortage of coupons up for grabs, the key is knowing where to find them:

• Newspapers — The Sunday paper is still a valuable tool for those serious about coupons. In addition to featuring weekly sales’ papers, retail establishments including grocery stores, retailers, and restaurants frequently offer special deals and coupons, both as inserts and in print ads, in the newspaper’s Sunday edition. The Smart Source and Valassis coupon inserts appear regularly, and Procter and Gamble generally offers an insert at the start of each month.

• Magazines — Women’s publications frequently carry manufacturer coupons and often feature opportunities on their Web sites where readers can sign up for special e-mail and mail offers.

• In store — Most grocers and some retail stores now offer coupons on store shelves, product displays, receipts, and oftentimes on the products themselves.

• The Internet — The Internet is chock full of free printable coupon sites featuring everything from grocery items to retail discount coupons. Some require you to sign up, but the savings is usually worth the effort. Two popular sites are: www.coupons.com and www.couponmom.com.

• Junk mail — A lot of valuable manufacturer coupons often appear in junk mailers, making it worth the few minutes it takes to sift through that pile of papers stuffed inside the mailbox.

• Direct from the manufacturer — Check manufacturer Web sites for printable coupons or places where you can sign up, write or e-mail to request coupons. Manufacturers of baby products (e.g. diapers, formula, etc.), as well as various food brands (e.g. General Mills, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Betty Crocker, etc.) frequently offer “clubs” that new parents can join to receive discount coupons and rewards.

• Store mailings — Sign up for frequent shopper cards at stores where you shop, and you may be rewarded with special coupon mailings.

• On the products themselves — Don’t forget to take a close look at the products you buy for special loyalty coupons printed right on the label or box.

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