Digital coupon wave: Clipping to surfing

Couponing is digitizing.

Although printed circulars remain the workhorse of the nation’s coupon distribution system, a growing share of the coupons consumers are handing cashiers are emerging from online distribution sources and are being printed out at home. A smaller but growing segment also is being handled exclusively through electronic means via smartphones and mobile technology.

“[One]-third of consumers are actually shopping online to find coupons ... from [sites] like Groupon or SmartSource, or from a manufacturer’s site,” said Susan Viamari, editor of Times & Trends for SymphonyIRI Group. “And ... a small portion of the population is using iPhone apps to get coupons.”

In its Digital Coupons Trends Report for 2010, noted that more than $1.2 billion in digital coupons savings were issued in 2010, representing a 41% growth over the year before. “Compared to growth metrics for coupons distributed in newspapers of 7%, digital coupons dramatically outpaced the growth of their newspaper counterparts,” the company noted.

“Digital couponing has been the growth engine of the couponing industry for years, before this extreme couponing phenomenon,” asserted founder and CEO Steven Boal. “It was shifting to digital before the recession hit. That may have accelerated it, but the shift was already taking place. All the growth in couponing is happening digitally.”

The Nielsen Co. agreed — to a point. “While newspaper inserts are still the primary method of coupon distribution [89%] and redemption [53%], Internet redemption growth has skyrocketed, rising 263% in 2009,” the research giant noted. 

“And while clipping continues to be a primary means of distribution, manufacturers and retailers launched new ways to get coupons into consumers’ hands, such as printable coupons on the Internet, in-store kiosks and discounts linked to frequent shopper cards via smartphones and computers, negating the need for a paper coupon at all,” Nielsen added. “In short, it is easier than ever to distribute and use coupons, and this convenience is also a key driver of redemption growth.”

Coinciding with the shift toward electronic coupons has been a steep and long-lasting decline in the number of circulars distributed via newspapers. Sunday newspaper deliveries to U.S. homes peaked at more than 63 million in 1993, but that number is back down to about 40 million newspapers each Sunday, Boal said. “The only real change to take place in that industry over the last decade has been the shift to digital,” he told Drug Store News.

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