September is National Coupon Month, and it's no secret that the recession ignited an American love affair with the humble little coupon. Whether shoppers cut them out with scissors, searched for them online, or stored them as text messages, coupon use grew by double digits every quarter of 2009 -- especially among affluent shoppers.
But it looks like the coupon craze may be losing steam.
"While coupon use gained 13% in the first quarter of this year, it grew only 1% in the second quarter," Matthew Tilley, director of marketing for Inmar Corp., tells Marketing Daily. "And while that is still way up from two years ago and we expect to see somewhere between 3.3 and 3.5 billion coupons redeemed this year, the increases are sort of leveling off. We're not sure yet if the slower growth is just a blip or a trend."
For now, the biggest changes in couponing continue to be demographic, Luke Knowles, founder of Coupon Sherpa and www.ilovecouponmonth.com, tells Marketing Daily. "The typical coupon user is still likely to be a mom with kids, and she still uses coupons mostly for groceries. But she is younger and more affluent. And she is more interested in different technology around coupons, whether that's the Internet, her cell phone, or discounts downloaded to a loyalty card."
Still, both Tilley and Knowles point out that for all the buzz the newer formats are generating among marketers, the majority of coupons are the old-fashioned kind. (And 44%, Tilley adds, come straight from that antediluvian device known as the Sunday paper.)
Knowles' idea for setting a site devoted to coupon month was to boost shoppers' coupon-savvy, with daily tips like "How to Effectively Use a Coupon Binder System," "Rules for Pairing Coupons with Sales" and "The Anatomy of a Coupon." "National Coupon Month has actually been around for 13 years," he says, "but we're trying to heighten the awareness for consumers about the new era of couponing." (Knowles is also the brains behind the fast-growing Free Shipping Day, which is scheduled this year for Dec. 17.)
But while many stores -- including the likes of Target, grocery retailer Meijer, and Walmart's Sam's Club -- are dialing up their digital couponing campaigns, such efforts are still relatively tiny, and the technology still in its infancy.
"Let's take a company like McDonald's," says Tilley. "When it issues coupons -- no matter what form -- it is fairly easy to track them. They are offers created by McDonald's and collected and redeemed and tracked by McDonald's. But at Target or any of the stores testing new technologies, there are coupons being redeemed from Pepsi and Coke and hundreds of companies," he says. "While everyone recognizes the new coupons are fast-growing, right now, something that is not a piece of paper still poses challenges."