I have told my readers that understanding how the system works and following the rules are extremely important to keeping that system working. Unfortunately, I was one of only a few voices out there preaching responsibility and ethics for the last few years.
At the height of the coupon craze, extreme couponers had their own television show that showed person after person getting thousands of dollars of products at 95 percent or greater savings. However, producers failed to disclose to the audience that the participants were using fake coupons, unethical gathering methods and redeeming multiple Catalina coupons in a single transaction in order to boost savings levels for one shopping trip.
It did not present a realistic shopping experience, and when consumers tried to replicate those shopping trips, they quickly became disappointed with their results.
Once the show aired and coupon use increased, manufacturers panicked. Marketing firms and executives had conferences on how to deal with the threat of extreme couponing and fraud. Manufacturers started changing their coupons in an attempt to contain the “threat” of extreme couponers.
New limitations started popping up on the coupons themselves. More coupons required the purchase of more than one item, and certain brands started reducing coupons to only one coupon redeemed per shopping trip.
Manufacturers also decided to switch their marketing focus. Many companies now offer fewer coupons on standard items and instead focus their coupon marketing on introducing new products. These items are unfamiliar to shoppers, who might balk at spending money for a flavored mayonnaise even with a reduced price and would rather purchase a store-brand, traditional mayo instead.
Shoppers also might have noticed that expiration dates arrive sooner. In 2012, expiration dates shortened an average of 6 percent from the previous year to a new average of 9.3 weeks and dropped to an average of eight weeks for nonfood coupons. In 2010, the average was 10.4 weeks.
That means a couponer has less time to find the item on sale before the coupon expires. Considering that most items stay on a 12-week sales cycle, a couponer’s opportunity for a matchup to a grocery chain’s major sales cycle has been shortened. This limits the opportunity for the couponer to stock up on items.
I have found some deals that were available for only one day because of the coupon’s expiration date and the day of the sale.
In 2009, 62 percent of coupons were for grocery items and 38 percent were for health and beauty items. By the end of 2012, nonfood items made up 62 percent of coupons and 38 percent were for food items. Food coupons are generally seen as necessities, while nonfood items are not. Therefore, the lack of grocery coupons has been greatly perceived as lessening the value of couponing overall. Considering that extreme couponing takes a great deal of time and effort, one can also assume that a lack of food coupons will discourage couponers from continuing their efforts.
Retailers have also made changes to coupon redemption policies. Although Kroger was featured prominently on the TV show about extreme couponers, it has eliminated its doubling policy in several regions and is rumored to be considering eliminating doubling across the entire chain sometime in the near future.
Are coupons doomed? Right now, it’s hard to say. Even though data show that most people still remain concerned about their finances and are more value conscious than ever, coupon use has declined. My advice to my fellow couponers is to stick with it. Save what you can. It’s still much better to pay $55 for $100 in groceries instead of the full price.