Growing up I will always remember our family’s Sunday paper routine: Dad would immediately open up the bundle and take out the sports section, I would jockey with my brother for the comics, and Mom would furiously attack the coupons with her scissors.
Although this may be a familiar childhood scene for most of you, couponing has evolved far beyond the Sunday paper. Coupons used to pretty much exist in one form: paper. Whether you got them from the newspaper, direct mail, magazines, or from your kids’ school fundraisers, you were in possession of a physical coupon.
Nowadays coupons come in many forms, including QR code scans, text messages, and easily redeemable coupon codes when checking out online. Not only has the process for gathering coupons changed, but these new forms of coupons have spawned new coupon using behaviors.
Search, in particular, has emerged as a critical tool in coupon-gathering and can tell us quite a bit about how your strategy should evolve as well.
Finding the Coupons
The role of search as it relates to coupons is pretty straight-forward. Want a coupon? Search for a coupon.
Now, rather than waiting a full week for the Sunday paper to cash in on the coupon mother lode, you can proactively seek out the coupon you need when you need it.
The Coupon Community (or “Team Mom” as my friends call it) collectively band together to find the best deals, exchanging coupons with each other like “Magic: The Gathering” aficionados trade cards. The massive popularity of Extreme Couponing on TLC, The Krazy Coupon Lady, and the like, is further indication that couponing not only isn’t slowing down, but is actually gaining steam.
ComScore search data on couponing presents an interesting picture. Between December 2010 and December 2011, searches for “coupon” and “coupons” (broad matched) ballooned to over 63 million for a year-over-year increase of 37 percent. The total audience of coupon searchers is also growing, up 24 percent to 21 million searchers at an average of 3 searches per searcher.
Both the number of coupon searchers and their frequency of engagement are growing, but the intensity of coupon searching per person is outdistancing the actual growth of couponers. This doesn’t come as a major surprise considering the popularity of the extreme couponing craze, which instructs its followers to conduct intricate calculations and planning of their coupon combinations to maximize the savings.
This can become particularly important to the manufacturers and retailers offering coupons, as the use of coupons for the most “extreme” couponers is directly linked to their ability to combine them with other coupons to maximize their discounts. I would see this as a positive for consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers, and more of a challenge for the individual retail stores.
For example, P&G might be happy to have you buy as many of their products as possible in conjunction with other companies’ products at the grocery store as long as this couponing flexibility drives more overall purchases of their brands, but Macy’s would much prefer you do all of your department store shopping within their store than splitting your time between multiple stores. The inability to combine one retailer’s coupons with other retailers’ coupons could mean “extreme” couponers may look past their offers, leading to lost sales.
That being said, the search data does uncover a change in couponing behavior that directly benefits the retailers: store brand coupon searching.
Coupons for Entire Stores, Not Just Products
Traditionally, couponing was product specific. You found coupons for a particular product, Life Cereal for example, but you usually didn’t come across a coupon to be redeemed for the retailer itself. CPG companies dominated the coupon landscape and were mostly retailer agnostic.
As e-commerce evolved into the direct buying channel it is today, coupon searching evolved with it.
In the previous chart we looked at the total number of searchers and searches for Coupon-related terms, but if you look at the top 10 versions used by the searchers, 7 are for specific retail stores, like Target, Kohl’s and JC Penney. As the chart below shows, the volume of these store brand terms skyrockets in the same way general coupon searching does.
This same trend continues as you move beyond the Top 10 “coupon” terms. In fact, 75 percent of the top 100 coupon searches were for specific retail store brands. This is a far cry from the pre-e-commerce days of couponing, limiting you to specific products that were being marketed to you.
Proactive coupon searching clearly lends itself directly to retail store brands, which leads us to an important realization for retailers: your shoppers may be searching for coupons before coming to your site, or they may do it once they’ve already decided to make a purchase with you.
Many retailers understandably cringe knowing that these last-minute coupon scoopers could be unnecessarily driving down the price of their goods among consumers who will actually pay full price. But the other side of the argument is that offering coupons and discounts might be the price of admission these days, a necessary marketing expenditure to reach consumers who are increasingly looking for confirmation of value before making a purchase. If a retailer wants to maintain its share of wallet, it had better be front and center with these cost-conscious consumers – even at a cost to their margins.
Couponing and discounts remains a delicate balancing act for retailers, but if the surge in coupon searching is any indication, it’s a behavior that consumers have clearly become conditioned to today. Retailers who don’t engage with consumers on this turf just might find themselves left out in the cold.