Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Coupons becoming weapon of choice for our store wars

Supermarkets are successfully luring us with their coupons and special offers, says Donald C McFetridge

It appears that we have become a nation of coupon clippers if you believe the results of the latest YouGov Survey on the subject of supermarket coupons. Never before, it seems, have we used coupons to the extent that we now do.

According to the survey almost all shoppers right across Great Britain and Northern Ireland use supermarket coupons with consumers in the most affluent areas being the most likely to cash in at the checkout.

Coupon clipping used to be the reserve of the elderly and those in the lower socio-economic groupings but not nowadays.

Employed consumers have radically increased their use of money- off coupons the most (at 33%) compared with the unemployed or retired at 23% - the opposite of what one would have expected.

Only 7% of consumers said they never use them at all.

Almost half of those surveyed (46%) stated that using coupons is now seen as the norm while 43% of consumers stated that they believe most people use coupon regardless of their personal financial situation.

This is clearly as growing trend, particularly in these financially straitened times. Had this survey been conducted five years ago, I believe that the results would have been quite different.

During this recession, consumer behaviour has radically changed with shoppers keen to seek out their preferred products and leading manufacturers' brands at the best price possible.

Many consumers now price-compare online before venturing out to the shops and, when provided with the opportunity to save money, whether that be through special offers, promotions or 'blue spot' deals, they quite rightly do so.

Interestingly, 4% of those surveyed pointed out that they find using coupons embarrassing and I can understand their point of view. Sometimes, when I produce a clutch of coupons which some of the leading supermarket chains take the bother to post to me, I do admit to feeling a little bit embarrassed and look carefully around to see who's behind me in the queue.

But, not when I get £10 off and leave the supermarket feeling smug and satisfied: exactly how the supermarket bosses want me to feel.

It also makes you want to return to that shop even if you don't have any coupons for your next visit.

A case in point was Tesco recently (where I don't shop regularly) sent me three £10 off coupons - one to use every week providing I spent £30 or more. As a careful shopper I was happy to switch from Sainsbury's to Tesco for that three-week period and got my £30's worth from Tesco.

However, I have now reverted to Sainsbury's who regularly provide me with vouchers at the till. Most recently, I received £2 provided I spent £20 or more - not difficult to do on a standard supermarket run.

Consumers are promiscuous; they will shop where the offers are, particularly if the deals are worthwhile such as previously outlined. Why not switch supermarkets for a short time if you're going to get £30 worth of merchandise for nothing; surely it makes sense. It certainly does for me.

But this all begs the question: what's in it for the supermarkets? Well, that much is obvious. They provide the vouchers in order to encourage consumers to spend more. For instance, on the Sainsbury's visit I had only £17 worth of merchandise in my basket but was quick to top it up with products which I didn't really intend to purchase on that visit (but would require on a subsequent visit) in order to avail of the £2 off offer.

By providing consumers with money off coupons and vouchers delivered through our letterboxes, the supermarket giants are trying to do two things: firstly, they are aiming to grow customer spend per visit and, secondly, they are hoping to increase loyalty to the brand.

Whether or not they achieve this in the age of the promiscuous consumer is another question but it's one which is certainly uppermost on the minds of the suits at Head Office whose role is to drive customer loyalty at all costs.

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