Businesses exist to serve their customers. Any business that consistently fails to meet its customers’ needs won’t survive long. So, the customer always has to come first.
Unfortunately, distribution and redemption numbers for U.S. grocery coupons seem to indicate that marketers were not fully aligning themselves with consumer expectations for deals and coupons during the first half of 2021.
The numbers reveal two separate disconnects.
Disconnect: Not Aligning to Consumers’ Demand for Coupon Savings
Although marketers significantly reduced the number of grocery coupons they made available during the first half of 2021 (-10.8% vs. the same period last year), consumers showed strong demand for whatever coupon savings they could find. As a result, the redemption of grocery coupons fell by a smaller percentage (-7.9%) than distribution.
Even more striking, as people began to regain some semblance of normalcy in their lives during the second quarter, they actually redeemed 27.8% more coupons compared to the same period last year.
Despite Declining Distribution, Redemption Grew in the Second Quarter of 2021
Two key factors appear to be driving the heightened demand for coupons:
1. Shoppers finally have favorable conditions for using grocery coupons.
With cleared shelves and fewer options to choose from, as well as a reluctance to go into stores, the pandemic made it much harder for people to use the grocery coupons they had. Now, as we regain some semblance of normalcy, shoppers are finally finding themselves in conditions that are more favorable to using the coupons they have available to them.
Over the first half of 2021, the grocery supply chain has started to return to a state that at least approximates normalcy. As a result, shoppers now have more access to the products they need and the brands they prefer. And, a majority of people are feeling more optimistic about their health, so they are more willing to venture back into stores. For example, surveys conducted in February and March for our 2021 Consumer Optimism Outlook found that 52% of vaccinated people were comfortable shopping in stores – a number that climbs to 54% for millennials and 57% for parents. As a result, conditions have started to become more conducive to shoppers using the coupons they have available to them.
2. Lingering financial pressures have heightened the demand for deals.
Our 2021 Consumer Optimism Outlook found that nearly half of consumers said their household income was negatively impacted by COVID in 2020. Among those consumers, 70% expect their incomes to remain negatively impacted in 2021. With financial concerns top of mind, consumers are looking for ways to save money. More than 70% said they increased their saving behaviors during COVID, with 82% planning to continue those behaviors.
In short, consumers are looking for good deals. To their credit, that’s exactly what marketers delivered with the quality of coupons they offered during the first half of 2021. Compared to the same period in 2020, the average face value offered increased 9.3% to $2.58 per coupon, and the average time to redeem an offer increased 5.4%. At the same time, purchase requirements did not become materially more burdensome; the share of coupons requiring the purchase of more than one item grew by only one share point to 22%.
The quality of coupons offered may have been responsive to consumers’ demand for a good deal, but with a 10.8% decrease in distribution volume, the quantity of coupons offered was not. As a result, we saw distribution and redemption volumes take very different trajectories throughout the first half of 2021, especially in the second quarter.
Disconnect: Not Aligning to Consumers’ Demand for an Omnichannel Experience
During the first half of 2021, marketers continued to scale back coupon distribution across all media except digital formats. They increased their distribution of digital paperless coupons by 45%, and they increased their distribution of digital print-at-home coupons by 20%.
Naturally, with the growth of online shopping and saving behaviors, consumers ended up redeeming more digital coupons over the first half of 2021. Although they redeemed 16% fewer digital print-at-home coupons, they made up for it with a 42% increase in the redemption of digital paperless coupons. But, unlike the marketers who were trying to connect with them, shoppers did not turn their backs on more traditional places of finding coupons. In fact, they redeemed 10% more direct mail coupons.
Consumers have made it clear that they expect a consistent experience across online and offline channels.1 In order to deliver that experience, brands and retailers have rightfully expanded online savings opportunities. But, a true omnichannel experience requires marketers to keep supporting traditional offline channels. If anything, they should be leveraging data and emerging technologies to enhance their use of offline media channels in ways that complement the online experience.
Brands and Retailers at the Crossroads
CPG marketers and retailers are at a critical juncture. They can continue, as some have done, to disregard the expectations of their consumers. Or, they can align themselves more fully to demands for readily and conveniently available coupon savings across a variety of online and offline channels. The choice is up to each individual brand and retailer. But, those that fail to embrace the expectations of their consumers do so at their own peril.
For more about what’s on the mind of the consumer at this critical point in time, check out our 2021 Consumer Intel Report, The Cautious Return to a New World.
Amanda Ivanovic, a manager of insights & strategy at Vericast, has been providing analytical support for our NCH coupon redemption solutions since 2012, and she has been spearheading the company’s efforts to aggregate and report on coupon industry trends since 2014. With a bachelor’s degree and mathematics teaching certificate from Eastern Illinois University, Amanda is highly skilled at bringing industry data to life in ways that are meaningful to our customers.
1 “25 Amazing Omnichannel Statistics Every Marketer Should Know,” V12. Updated June 29, 2021.