By  on August 19, 2009

As Shoppers trim expenses, coupon use is robust at department stores and mass market retailers, as well as at grocery stores.

The economic crisis has eroded the stigma linked to coupon-clipping, with shoppers seeking any financial advantage they can get, according to a survey by marketing firm ICOM Information & Communications.

“Two or three years ago, people may not have been so focused on coupons, but now they are actively out there using them because every dollar they save is a little bit more important to them,” said Warren Storey, ICOM director of marketing.

One out of three respondents in the survey of 1,827 people in the U.S. said they were using more coupons than they did a year ago. A total of 86.5 percent confirmed they utilized them in the previous month at grocery stores, 41.3 percent tapped into coupons for purchases at department stores or mass merchants; 46.5 percent at restaurants, and 34.9 percent used them to shop for personal or health care products at drugstores. There were no comparative figures from the previous year.

Coupons enable typical households to save 25 percent a year without cutting purchases, and almost all retailers are “increasing the number of coupons they issue,” Storey said.

A separate study for the National Retail Federation found 43.4 percent of shoppers said coupons influenced them to shop at a particular store, and coupons or sales influenced 47.8 percent of back-to-school purchases.

“Parents are making careful spending decisions based on price instead of giving kids free rein,” said Pam Goodfellow, senior analyst, strategic initiatives, for BIGresearch, which conducted the poll of 8,543 consumers from Aug. 4-11.

Total savings from coupons redeemed on consumer packaged goods at midyear rose 20 percent to $1.7 billion from $1.41 billion at the same time last year, said Charles Brown, vice president of marketing at NCH, which tracks coupon use in the U.S. Last year, consumers saved a total of $2.7 billion because of coupons.

“So certainly marketers are issuing more coupons and consumers are redeeming more,” Brown said.

Consumers used to have less interest in using coupons because they required added work — clipping and remembering to bring them when shopping. “But now that people are more conscious of what they are spending, that extra work all seems more worth it,” Storey said.

According to a report by NCH, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was the number-one retailer in coupon redemption in 2008, followed by Kroger. Target rose from eighth place in 2007 to seventh last year.

Electronically downloaded coupons offer retailers and brand marketers new marketing options, said Peter Meyers, ICOM vice president of marketing.

“Marketers have the opportunity to discard the old-school thinking about coupons and…engage consumers desperately looking for ways to save money,” Meyers said. “Brands that take the extra step of analyzing the audience will be rewarded for sending offers relevant to the consumer.”

While a majority of consumers may still prefer to receive offers in the mail, “wise brands will keep this emerging trend on their radar screens,” he added.

The “next frontier” of paperless coupons has vast potential, with sources such as AOL, Kroger, General Mills and Procter and Gamble already conducting tests of high-tech coupons.

“Everyone is looking through newspapers and mail for a deal, so you have a more captive audience than a year ago and they are willing to shop for deals on brands they want, whether it’s for food, jeans or cosmetics,” Storey said.

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