You can have all the gee-whiz electronic gadgets in the world, but one of the surest ways to save money at the supermarket still depends on a pair of sharp scissors.
In 2013, manufacturers distributed 315 billion coupons for packaged goods – paper towels, orange juice, cereal, detergent, and the like. That’s an almost unfathomable 1,000 coupons for every person in the U.S -- enough to have one heck of a ticker-tape parade. Although only a scant 2.8 percent were actually redeemed, the aggregate savings to consumers was $3.5 billion.
Most of those coupons weren’t unearthed by techno-savvy shoppers wielding smartphones and using deal-sniffing mobile apps like Saving Star, Grocery IQ, or Cellfire. Ninety-one percent were distributed in paper form, primarily via freestanding inserts stuffed between the sections of Sunday newspapers. Old school. Less than 1 percent of coupons were distributed digitally, meaning they could be downloaded electronically or printed at home.
For most shoppers, the potential savings justify the time spent clipping. The average value of a typical coupon jumped nearly 6 percent last year, to $1.62 (vs. $1.27 in 2012), says Charles K. Brown, vice president of marketing for NCH Marketing Services, which tracks coupon activity.
But the tradeoff for the higher face value is the requirement to purchase multiple items to get the deal. A quarter of all coupons insist you buy more than one item. This is part of an ongoing trend. Another trend is shorter expiration dates. Consumers have less time to use their coupons. Offer durations have shrunk to 8.6 weeks, on average, vs. 9.3 weeks a couple of years ago.