Who’s using coupons — and where

Who’s clipping coupons? Ironically, coupon redemptions in the wake of the Great Recession are heaviest among higher-income, better-
educated Americans, researchers reported.

“With the value offered by coupons, one might think that the lowest income households would be among the heaviest users,” noted The Nielsen Co. “In fact, more affluent households dominate coupon usage.”

Indeed, 38% of “super heavy” coupon users and 41% of what Nielsen described as coupon “enthusiasts” come from households with incomes that exceed $70,000, according to the company. And households with incomes of $100,000 and up “were the primary drivers of coupon growth in 2009,” Nielsen reported. “The enthusiast category also attracts a disproportionate number of households with incomes between $50,000 and $69,999.”

One reason is higher levels of newspaper readership among better-educated and higher-income households, since “newspapers remain a key vehicle for delivering coupons,” according to Nielsen. Another differentiator: “promotions are generally targeted in areas with more affluent consumers,” Nielsen reported.

“Beyond income levels, more than half [51%] of larger households ... are ‘enthusiasts,’ while roughly one-third of non- and lighter coupon users are single-person households,” the company added. “Younger female households use coupons more, while male-only households use them less. Older users [65-plus] are also important ... coupon users.”

Supermarkets remain the primary savings arena for those enthusiasts, according to research, software and consulting firm Inmar. “The majority of coupons [65%] were redeemed at conventional grocery stores,” Inmar reported. “But all classes of trade — dollar stores, mass merchandisers, convenience stores, military commissaries and drug stores — posted double-digit redemption growth.”

Indeed, much of the growth activity in consumers’ coupon use rates has been outside the food aisle. In 2009, for instance, “nonfood coupon redemption growth escalated from a rate of 9% in the first quarter to 46% in [the] second quarter, and continued growing throughout the year, rising 45% in [the] third quarter and 37% in [the] fourth quarter,” Nielsen reported. “A total of 1.2 billion nonfood coupons were redeemed in 2009, representing one-third [of] all coupons.”

A recent nationwide survey commissioned by Coupons.com, and conducted by Harris Interactive, highlighted Americans’ renewed interest in coupons. “The survey found that incorporating coupons was the most popular planned activity to offset rising food prices, cited by nearly three-quarters [72%] of U.S. adults,” the company reported. Coupon use outweighed all other cost-saving measures among consumers, including unit-price comparison at the store shelf (71%) and shopping at discount stores (66%), Coupons.com found.

John Freeland, president and CEO of SymphonyIRI, said the rise of couponing and other money-saving efforts by consumers pose both challenges and new opportunities for retailers and manufacturers. “An economy in transition to recovery is as tricky to navigate for CPG, retail and healthcare leaders as an economy moving into recession,” Freeland said. “Some shoppers are retaining their frugal ways, others are spending more freely across the board and others still are spending more on some types of products, but remaining tightfisted about others. They are also re-evaluating where they purchase their products.”

However, he added, “outstanding opportunity” could open up “for manufacturers and retailers willing to analyze carefully discrete shopper microsegments.”

Added Nielsen, “manufacturers and retailers have real opportunities to reach different groups with coupons and promotions, particularly African-American and Hispanic households. While this may require adjustments to existing tactics, the potential payoff, in terms of volume growth and winning new customer loyalty, can be significant.”

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