THANKS TO HIGH GAS
and grocery prices, coupon clipping is making a comeback.
Shoppers redeemed 2.6 billion coupons last year, reversing a 16-year decline, according to CouponInfoNow.com. With prices on everything from dairy products to meat on the rise, shoppers are expected to clip even more this year, says Sue Perry, deputy editor of Consumer Reports' ShopSmart magazine. "Even people who never clipped a coupon in their lives are looking at those circulars that come with the paper," she says.
Realizing that coupons help create loyal customers, retailers, marketers and manufacturers are rolling out new technologies that make coupons even more accessible to shoppers, says Matthew Tilley, marketing director for CMS: The Promotions Logistics Company, the industry consultant behind CouponInfoNow.com. Supermarket chain Kroger's, for example, offers services that enable consumers to load coupons onto their cellphones, or link them to their store loyalty card.
Here are five new ways shoppers can take advantage of coupons and none of them require a pair of scissors:
Forget about the Sunday newspaper. Now shoppers can print coupons inside the store. Shoppers at
Loaded Loyalty Cards
"People don't want to take the time to clip the coupons, remember to take them to the store and then, once there, remember to use them," says Alicia Rockmore, founder of Buttoned Up, which offers tools and tips to help consumers get organized. AOL's newShortcuts
seeks to streamline the process. The web site lets consumers load manufacturers' coupons onto their store loyalty card and use them at checkout. Kroger's (and its affiliated brands) currently offer the service.
A similar technology, created by loyalty marketing firm Chockstone enables shoppers to load participating retailers' loyalty club information like how many cappuccinos you need to buy to earn a free one onto a credit card. That way, members' award points and discounts automatically get applied at checkout. Subway, the sandwich-shop chain, plans to start using the newly-developed technology this year.
Last month, grocery chain Meijer releasedMealbox
, a downloadable computer program that helps consumers prepare shopping lists and find associated deals. The widget alerts shoppers to store sales and automatically attaches any available coupons. Shoppers then print out the list so the coupon barcodes can be scanned at checkout.
The pitfall of web-based coupons has long been in-store acceptance, says Edgar Dworsky, founder ofConsumerWorld.org
, a consumer advocacy site. For retailers, it was tough to tell the real thing from a fake because there were no barcodes or other authentication measures in place. Now sites likeSmartSource.com
use barcode-printing software that helps remedy that problem. Shoppers can easily click on the coupons they want and print them out without too much concern about whether or not the store will accept it. (Still, it doesn't hurt to check with the retailer first.) Just be aware, manufacturers typically limit shoppers to just two printouts per coupon, says Dworsky.
The next big thing in coupons: cellphones. According to Juniper Research, a U.K.-based market researcher, marketers expect mobile coupons to generate $7 billion annually by 2011.
Among the services that offer this technology are Cellfire, a mobile web browsing application that downloads and stores coupon codes on cellphones free of charge (you'll have to pay data usage charges on your cellphone, however). Recent deals include a two-for-one rental at Hollywood Video and $2 off a haircut at Supercuts. Last month, McDonald's began testing RFID-enabled cellphone coupons in Japan the same contact-less "wave-here-to-pay" technology used in drugstores, supermarkets and gas stations. (Exxon Mobil has Speedpass, while both CVS and McDonald's use RFID-enabled payment terminals.)