Are Americans Addicted To Coupons?

Alright consumers, Macy’s heard you loud and clear: you want a good deal, not a good price. To celebrate the revelation, Macy’s is proud to announce the return of the coupon. Psychological gratification is yours to clip and snip away, 15%-20% at a shot.

Despite their dowdy image, coupons remain a huge business. In 2006, companies issued 279 billion of them, or roughly 1,000 per person, up 13 percent in four years, according to NCH Marketing Services in Deerfield, Ill.

They remain, above all, a psychological tool, granting shoppers the seemingly illicit — and gratifying — right to snag a bargain. (Never mind that stores typically set prices high and budget for the “discounts.”)

“If you have ever watched a person at a cash register with a handful of coupons, you can see they are so proud,” said Jan S. Slater, a professor of advertising at the University of Illinois. “They love taking their coupons out, counting them, showing them off, watching as the tab on the cash register falls.”

But retailers dislike coupons, which train shoppers to wait for deep discounts, making it harder to sell full-price merchandise. Moreover, Mr. Lundgren said, “in our research, customers told us, ‘It’s complicated and confusing and I don’t what the exact price is.'”

Thanks, psychologists. Knowing that our love for coupons is irrational fills us with self-loathing.

Given Fewer Coupons to Clip, Shoppers Snub Macy’s [NYT]
(Photo: Birdies100)


Edit Your Comment

  1. swicklund says:

    Actually, coupons are modern society’s mechanism for negotiating price. If you have enough money (or like to think you have enough money) that you can afford to pay retail for an item, you won’t mess with coupons.
    If you want the item, but won’t pay the retail price , voila – coupon!
    The store wins, because they will generally make money in either case, but they get you charge the “rich” guys more for the same item. The coupon cutters win, because, hey, free money. Really the only one who loses is the person with too much pride to cut a coupon.

  2. BuddhaLite says:

    I stopped buying a newspaper years ago so by default I stopped using coupons. Not long before that I found I really didn’t even use them and if I did it was an impulse buy. Generics and store sales typically keep me supplied with what I want and cheaper too.

  3. skrom says:

    Not to mention there is nothing more annoying than being behind one of those proud, smiling people with a fist full of coupons. All they do is hold up the line for another 5 minutes just because they are cheapskates.

  4. @skrom:

    ‘specially if they’re in the express line. Even worse if the coupon(s) they have dont apply to what they pulled off the shelf

  5. I do use coupons, but only on things I would buy anyway. Coupons on things like garbage bags, sponges and spray cleaners are great. Generally, I don’t eat the kind of food that coupons are available for.

  6. spinachdip says:

    @Bevill: Yeah, I don’t buy brand name stuff that isn’t already on sale (there’s always a discount on orange juice or TV dinners), and I don’t buy a lot of packaged goods otherwise, I wouldn’t get any use out of coupons. Plus, I prefer shopping at Trader Joe’s, with no (need for) coupons or sales.

    Using coupons would mean spending more money on stuff I wouldn’t have bought otherwise.

  7. missdona says:

    The only time I use coupons is if there is a handy coupon dispenser right next to the item I am going to buy. Other than that, I don’t do it.

  8. grizzman says:

    This cheapskate has saved as much as $40 per grocery trip with coupons.

  9. therethinker says:

    “It’s complicated and confusing and I don’t what the exact price is.”

    That sentance is complicated and confusing.

  10. give the psychologists a break, they don’t know where/when to put the word know all the time

  11. Scooter says:

    When I think about it, I don’t believe I’ve used a coupon in my entire life. I comparison shop, and simply go to the stores with the best deals.

  12. spinachdip says:

    @grizzman: How big is your family? How often do you shop? Because if I’m “saving” $40 a trip (I typically spend about $20 a trip), I’m probably buying stuff I shouldn’t be buying.

    I don’t mean to be hostile or judgmental – I’m just curious as to how one could spend so much on packaged goods on a regular basis, that savings from coupons (that usually aren’t that good deals anyway) could amount to $40. Without knowing what your needs are, it seems like you’d be better off buying less packaged stuff and more store brands.

  13. Rando says:

    I’d like to take this time to tell everyone not to call Macy’s credit services regarding coupons, because unless you’re opted out there is nothing that can be done!

  14. @spinachdip: “How big is your family? How often do you shop? Because if I’m “saving” $40 a trip (I typically spend about $20 a trip), I’m probably buying stuff I shouldn’t be buying.”

    Size of grocery trips would probably be a big one. I spend around $100/trip because my primary goal in life is not to go to the grocery store more than once a month. I easily save $20/trip with coupons & doubling, particularly when I have cat food coupons.

    We buy very little packaged food — pasta and bread, pretty much. (Well, do you could dried beans and dried rice in sacks as packaged? Because I can’t get them bulk or direct locally.) Sometimes peanut butter or creamy salad dressing (I make vinaigrettes at home but creamy salad dressing is a PITA to make) or soup stocks/bases. Spices. Couple other things intermittently. My husband has an ice cream jones that I indulge when I have coupons for it.

    But yeah, cat food and litter coupons are a godsend, as are coupons for cold medicine and menstrual products. And those are usually fairly high-value coupons. We also fairly regularly get coupons for meat or (basic) dairy in our circulars, which are nice. Spice coupons are great, I love those.

  15. spinachdip says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: I guess I wouldn’t categorize stuff like rice and bread as “packaged goods”, even though they’re technically packaged and sold by national brands. I’m thinking Uncle Ben’s minute rice vs bag of uncooked rice, or factory packed burger patties vs beef that’s ground on-site.

    And I can see how pet owners can resonably save a bunch through coupons, since there aren’t too many reasonable, cheaper alternatives to the major brands. But that’s not true for grown up people food, which is why I’m curious about the huge amount of savings. I know that’s not all from cleaning supplies and deli meats.

    For what it’s worth, I do use my loyalty card, and between my girlfriend and me, we’ve saved over $100 so far this year. But generally, we make our shopping list, then look at the circular to see if anything on our list is on sale, so I don’t think we’re falling into that coupon shopper’s trap in the original article.

  16. Buran says:

    We’re talking about Macy’s here. The people who make coupons that EXEMPT EVERYTHING IN THE STORE FROM THEM!

  17. spinachdip says:

    “But retailers dislike coupons, which train shoppers to wait for deep discounts, making it harder to sell full-price merchandise.”

    In theory, manufacturers should hate coupons too, since price-based promotions erode loyalty and cheapen brands. But it’s not like corporate America cares about its own long-term health or anything.

  18. lastfm says:

    I’ve had one customer save $69 on her order using coupons. We don’t even allow doubling-up coupons. That was one talented shopper. Just goes to show you that, at least for some people, coupons are worth it.

  19. @spinachdip: “But that’s not true for grown up people food, which is why I’m curious about the huge amount of savings.”

    It sort-of depends on the kinds of things you buy, really, and how willing you are to wait for the coupon. :) Other “staple”-type packaged foods we coupon include olive oil, vinegars (eating and cleaning), canola oil, sugar, my husband’s favorite syrup brand, pasta sauces I’m not competent to make at home, etc. I suppose the bulk of the circulars ARE for things like Lunchables, but I sort-of tune those out, and you can get a lot of good coupons for basics.

    Many times the coupon drops the national brand to less than the generic. Other times, though, it isn’t worth it. I get coupons for name-brand eggs* literally every week, and the name-brand coupon price is never lower than the generic’s everyday price. But after you do it a while you get real fast at going through the circulars and spotting the things you want and you know will save actual money.

    (*Why? Why? Why? Do the chickens shit gold or something?)

    The other thing I do like them for is certain “treats.” My husband grew up in a VERY packaged-food home (I did not) so his comfort foods are mostly packaged crap I don’t

  20. bazzlevi says:

    What I don’t understand about this article is that it says that Macy’s tried to wean customers off of coupons, but is now backtracking. I live in Texas, and we have had Macy’s coupons appearing in our newspapers once, twice, and even three times a week since their takeover of Foley’s a year or so ago. I don’t even shop there any more because I got so tired of trying to read the small print to figure out if the coupon in my hand could even be used on what I wanted to buy (which it often could not!). They’ve ruined their image as far as I’m concerned, because they went from being slightly upscale (a notch above Foley’s and Dillard’s, and a notch below Nordstrom) to trying to beat Dillard’s at being affordable, and losing.

  21. FMulder says:

    I regularly save $40 plus at the drugstore (mostly CVS) buying items that I would buy without coupons. For example, for a particular deodorant, I’ll use the manufacturer coupon and the CVS discount (i.e. when CVS advertises a discount on the item). Then I focus on buying the items only when I can get the double discount for them.

    I make a point of stocking up my ‘usuals’ in this way, and then otherwise avoid buying them. At times, I have gone over $100 in items, and with such discounts only had to pay $30 or so.

  22. Starfury says:

    We sometimes use Safeway coupons that are in the weekly ads but rarely use any of the others. Most of the time they’re not for products we buy and they end up in the recycle bin.

  23. dazette says:

    Macy’s is just floundering around trying to find an excuse they haven’t already overused as to why their sales are poor (which incidentally has very little, if anything, to do with coupons). What amazes me is that there are still people in the media who accept and repeat anything Macy’s ships out in their press releases. If Macy’s had merchandise that excited shoppers and any thing even resembling sales help and customer service people would flock there, coupons or not.