By Jill Cataldo
Last week, I featured an email from a reader who felt there weren’t enough coupons for fresh meat and produce. He also had a comment on coupons’ values:
Dear Jill: I’ve noticed that companies have reduced the dollar amounts on their coupons. If we have a need to reduce our food bill each week, why are the papers and magazines loaded up with makeup and lip/eye and hair products? The pet food, cleaning/paper products and novelty coupons are good to help reduce the bill, but we can’t eat them! – Fred T.
Dear Fred: Are coupon values are going down, while coupons for non-food products abound? There’s some truth to this observation.
First, let’s tackle those non-food coupons. According to an October report from NCH Marketing Services, the Deerfield, Ill. coupon clearinghouse, manufacturers issued slightly fewer coupons for groceries during the third quarter of 2012 versus the same time period in 2011. Coupons issued for groceries (that is, food to eat) were down 3.5 percent over 2011. However, health and beauty coupons issued were on the rise during the same time period, jumping 10.4 percent! Why are we seeing such a significant increase in coupons for beauty?
As early as December 2011, The New York Times noted that nail polish sales have gone up, buoyed by women looking for “bargain luxuries as the economy craters.” NCH’s statistics appear to support that. We see a lot of makeup coupons out there these days! It would be wrong-headed for marketers to ignore women’s increased interest in pampering themselves. If women are buying more cosmetics, this presents a great opportunity for cosmetics companies to try to gain more of those sales and try to win shoppers over to their brands versus a competitor’s.
Are coupon values indeed going down? According to NCH’s report, they are – but only slightly. The average face value of a grocery coupon is $1.14, down from $1.18 last year. For health and beauty care, the average is $2.08, down from $2.09. While these are drops in value, they’re minor ones. But here’s another change that you may have noticed. According to the report, 37 percent of grocery coupons require the shopper to purchase multiple items. Manufacturers still want us to buy their products, but they want us to buy two or more at a time.
They want us to use our coupons a little sooner, too. The report notes that expiration dates have gotten a bit shorter. The average grocery coupon has an expiration date of 10.2 weeks, down from 10.4 last year. It’s not a big change, but it’s worth noting.
So what does this mean for coupon shoppers? Judging from the email I receive, many people are upset about lower values and the requirement of multiple purchases on many coupons. Two readers weigh in:
Dear Jill: I won’t use a coupon if it’s for more than one item. If I’m trying something new and I don’t like it, I don’t want to get stuck with two or three. Just won’t use them! – Lara M.
Dear Jill: If the coupon offer is not high enough, I just buy a store brand. The coupon needs to be worth enough to me to buy the name brand. If the value is too low, that coupon isn’t worth my time. – Priya A.
NCH’s report data seems to support these readers’ views. It states that coupon redemption is down this year, breaking a three-year growth trend in which coupon use rose every year. The report concludes with this eye-opening statement: “The suppressing effect of offer attractiveness… has significantly reduced the total number of coupons redeemed so far in 2012.”
If redemption continues to drop, perhaps marketers will seek to increase the attractiveness of their coupon offers. The alternative is losing business to store-brand items, especially when many stores are offering coupons for their private-label brands, too. We’ll delve into name-brand products versus store-brand products next week.
Email your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.