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Paper Coupons: Still Relevant for Retailers in a Digital World?


The first paper coupons date back to 1887 when households received an offer for a free glass of Coca-Cola. The company used the coupon to promote the new soda to the masses through a coupon sent via mail. Other brands followed suit with their own offers and The Nielsen Coupon Clearing House arrived in 1957 as the first agency devoted to coupon redemption. The retail world hasn’t been the same since, and we’ve come a long way since that small piece of paper in 1888.

Technology has changed the face of coupons, making it easier than ever for shoppers to save. First, there was the ability to download coupons from the Internet, print them and redeem them in store. Next came the wave of digital coupons loaded via an app or attached to an existing loyalty card account — no printing needed. As 96% of consumers use coupons, and 84% of consumers say coupons influence their shopping choices, coupons are here to stay, they just might be changing form. As retailers invest in technology to improve engagement and sales, coupons are definitely part of the picture. They’re clipped from the Sunday circular, downloaded from the Internet and considered when making a shopping list. What may surprise retailers, however, is how paper coupons stack up with digital.


Coupons Gone Digital

The first digital coupons were offered by grocery stores as these retailers saw consumers regularly use traditional paper coupons. Smartphones have only increased the growth of digital coupons as now shoppers can pull them up from their devices. Digital coupon availability can influence where a consumer will shop: 67% of consumers surveyed said they decide which store to shop at based on where they can use paperless discounts. Retailers need to be ready to adopt a digital coupon program if they don’t offer one already: digital coupons are projected to grow significantly over the next few years to $91 billion by 2022, up from $47 billion in 2017.

Digital coupons offer several benefits for the consumer, manufacturer, and retailer. Not only are digital coupons eco-friendly but they reduce the paperwork the retailer has to handle on a daily basis. Consumers don’t have to keep up with the paper coupons either. These coupons are also a great way to incentivize purchases, as digital coupons can be set to expire faster than a traditional paper coupon. The limited time window may spur a faster and larger purchase according to consumer behavior. A Psychology Today study examined habitual coupon users and found that these shoppers prefer to buy products with a coupon even if they will spend more. The action is attributed to a psychological effect wherein the consumer feels in control of their discounts.


Paper Coupons are Still in the Fight

Retailers and manufacturers still offer paper coupons even in the midst of a digital-heavy landscape. While shoppers have been quick to adopt technology through multiple facets of their lives, it seems that paper coupons live on as 55% of consumers said they use both digital and paper coupons. Paper coupons also present an opportunity to savvy shoppers: stacking or combining a digital coupon with a manufacturer coupon.

Manufacturer coupons are often clipped from the newspaper or printed from the company’s website. The ability to double their savings gives the shopper flexibility and they’ll frequent the stores with a coupon policy that allows stacking. In a survey by Valassis, 75% of those surveyed said they print coupons from the internet. The same survey had 30% of consumers report their use of paper coupons in 2017 had increased compared to 2016. Data from the survey demonstrated that coupons from printed sources still accounted for the majority share of use.

A lot of attention has been given to the shopping habits of groups such as Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Generation X. The Valassis survey showed that 91% of Millennials, despite growing up in an age of digital technology, have adopted paper coupons while Generation X and Baby Boomers were tied at 87%. The data shows that paper coupons are not going anywhere anytime soon.



Today’s retailer is faced with a consumer who wants deals and has a world of options when it comes to savings. Coupon use is still popular and has barely flagged in recent years even with the popularity of digital coupons. Consumers are known to make their shopping decisions on savings and discounts, especially when it comes to coupons, so retailers need to find a way to offer coupons that are easy to redeem and use them to incentivize purchases. While retailers like Kroger, Meijer, and Target are offering digital coupons, the consumer use of paper coupons should still be in the conversation.


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