Couponing Making a Comeback; Creating New Entrepreneurs

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When I picked up the Sunday Star Tribune at my corner grocery store this morning, I was expecting a bigger, heavier newspaper.The Sunday Times, it is not.

It has been years since I read the print version of the Sunday paper but today I wasn't interested in the articles-- I had already read them online earlier-- I was there for the coupons.

In doing  research on coupons this week, I started feeling foolish for not being a couponer -- Not taking advantage of these cents off offers is, according to one article, throwing away cash.

Growing up my Aunt Lily was the coupon queen. She used to regale us with stories of her double and triple coupon points and how much money she was saving. For Lily it was a financially rewarding  game-- not that different from her regular Mah Jong or Canasta games, which always involved some kind of currency. Instead of dots, bams,kraks or dragons, the cards were 20 cents off  and buy one, get one free. Her opponent was not the neighbor down the street but the price she would have paid without the coupons.  In this game, she was always a winner.

While my mom once resisted buying a bunch of bananas because she had seen it a penny cheaper per pound at another grocery store, she was not a coupon clipper .She was also not a mah jong or canasta player. I did not grow up sitting around the kitchen table on Sundays, clipping, sorting and strategizing of all the money I was going to save by redeeming those MFC's--that's coupon speak for a manufacturer coupon( think P&G) All stores honor these.

My mom can tell you exactly how much the price of bananas has increased this year--to the penny--- but I never have seen her whip out a coupon in the checkout line. She does rebates, she does sales. She doesn't do coupons.l

Earlier this year I was standing in line behind a gentleman who was an obvious couponer. By the time the grocery clerk scanned, sorted and verified his coupons , he had knocked $38 from his grocery bill. I was impressed. He was embarassed and apologetic to all of us standing behind him who had to wait the extra 3-5 minutes for the coupon transaction to be completed. Note to grocery stores: Add coupon only lines.

CouponingThat, according to CMS--The Promotions Logistics Company-- is one of the key reasons many of us don't coupon.  We're embarassed to do it.

Consumers like my Aunt Lily  was,are confident and believe others think they are smart for saving so much money.

Then there are the rest of us who are self-conscious about making others wait and wait and wait while the grocery clerk inspects the coupons for a valid expiration date and to some part whether or not they are counterfeit.

Embarassed or not, couponing--which had been experiencing a 16 year decline -- is making a comeback.

Last year, consumers  redeemed $2.6 billion coupons--a far cry from the $7.9 billion redeemed in 1992. But, what is significant, is that it was the same amount that was redeemed the year before. And this year, manufacturers are anticipating as new venues for coupons become available -- the coupon biz will see an uptick.

Marketers issued 302 billion coupons in 2007, a 6% increase over the previous year.  However, that increase belies the fact that manufacturers reduced the number of promotional offers by over 8% while increasing the circulation of those offers by nearly 5%.

“Last year, brands saw coupons as more of a mass advertising media,” said Tilley.  “Instead of issuing a lot of finely-tuned, targeted marketing efforts, brands tended to use coupons to support competitive messaging or new product launches.”

New products and competitive messages require richer offerings to get the attention of potentially less receptive audiences.  Therefore, the broader messaging brought a significant increase in coupon values.  Average values increased 10 cents per coupon to $1.28, marking the highest level seen to date.  At a nearly 9% increase, 2007 also saw coupon values outpace price increases for the first time since 2004.

 

At 8:58 a.m this morning I began my  own coupon experiment. It ended at 9:12 a.m. I had cut out three coupons and if I use all of them, I will not have redeemed the $1.75 I paid to buy the paper.

My first impression was that the majority of the circulars focused on sales within the stores and that my paper had just a pittance of coupons.

I cut out a 50 cents off coupon for some toothpaste but then found a 2/$5 sale at Walgreens for the same brand. Given that I am not my mother's daughter and have no idea what a tube of toothpaste regularly costs I don't know whether I'm better of with the 2/$5 or my 50 cents off coupon.

That's where the professional couponers come in. People whoshare the coupon passion that my Aunt Lily did  are finding that their passion and strategy for winning at the checkout line not only provides weekly savings but is also an entrepreneurial opportunity to mentor coupon schlubs like me.

CouponCrissy was "discovered" earlier this year. She started her blog at the end of May and has a category on her blog for booking appearances and scheduling coupon classes.

From the Consumerist

At a local Publix, Crissy managed to get two-thirds off her grocery bill and at CVS picked up $140 worth of goods for $5. Often, she spends only $10 a week on groceries and that's with 3 kids and a husband. Check out some of her techniques and her favorite coupon web sites, inside...

Crissy's incredible results don't come without preparation. She usually spends an hour week getting prepared for her shopping trip which takes her 3 to 4 hours and includes 3 to 7 local stores.

Like any good soldier, Crissy starts by gathering her ammunition. She does this by buying 2 copies of the Sunday double paper which renders 4 sets of coupons. Next she hits her favorite web sites which include: gottadeal.com and hotcouponworld.com

CouponMomV2With an Alexis ranking of 45,410, The Coupon Mom promises to help you cut your grocery bill in half. There's a free e-book and so far half a million people have become members of this community.

Currently 90% of all coupons are distributed via the Sunday paper. That of course is changing. While some grocery chains will not accept coupons printed from the internet --big fraud problem-- many others will.

There is a growing trend towards coupons via mobile phones-- I tried to sign up for one service myQpon but before I completed the activation process they informed me that I had to recommend five other people before I could get to the good stuff. Ugh.

There are a growing number of websites where you can download those coupons  and the online version of the Sunday paper offers some coupons as well including wow-coupons,coupons.com and RetailMeNot.com.

Meanwhile, I do have a 50 cents off coupon on Cascade 2in1 actionPacs that I clipped from the Sunday paper.It says the offer is valid on any size so I will see what happens when I submit the coupon at Costco. that is if I remember that I have that coupon the next time I go to Costco.

Elana blogs about business culture at FunnyBusiness

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