MARTIN SLOANE | Supermarket Shopper Future holds good, bad news for couponers

Grocery coupons are growing and changing. That is the opinion expressed by participants at the 2003 Annual Conference of the Association of Coupon Professionals, which I recently attended in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
ACP is the trade organization for companies involved in consumer coupons. It includes grocery product manufacturers, the companies they use to distribute coupons, the retailers who accept coupons and the clearinghouses and redemption agents who process them. Once a year, all of these coupon "experts" come together to discuss and solve problems and to consider the state of the industry and its future.
Dick DiBlasio, director of Industry Relations for CMS, Inc. a redemption agent for packaged goods manufacturers, presented the 2002 coupon industry results. The good news for coupon clippers is that the 336 billion coupons distributed in 2002 represented an increase of 3.4 percent over the previous year. Smart shoppers saw this gain in coupons in vehicles like Proctor & amp; Gamble's Brand Saver Sunday insert. Another reason for more coupons was the record number of new product introductions -- 22,000 in 2002.
According to "CMS Trends 2002," 77 percent of all the coupons distributed in 2002 were published in the Sunday coupon inserts. Manufacturer coupons used in supermarket advertising amounted to another 11 percent. Also good news for Smart Shoppers, the face value of coupons keeps going up; last year's average was 81 cents, up 4 cents from the previous year. One third of all coupons have a face value of a dollar!
However, coupon users are not happy with short expiration dates. According to CMS, the average expiration date was three months after publication, but 48.6 percent of the coupons expired within eight weeks. My readers are also concerned with coupons that require multiple purchases. The CMS presentation gave the sad news: Twenty-eight percent of the coupons distributed in 2002 required the purchase of more than one of an item. Two important grocery categories -- 46 percent of dry grocery coupons and 37 percent of frozen food coupons -- demanded that shoppers purchase more than one.
Shoppers redeemed 3.7 billion coupons in 2002, down 5.4 percent from the previous year, but the savings at the checkout counter were $3.1 billion, making coupons consumers' most important groceries savings tool. The coupon experts at the conference blamed the decrease on consumers buying more of their groceries at club stores and supercenters, the increase in club card loyalty programs and more men doing the shopping. I believe multiple purchase coupons were an important factor in the decline in redemption.
Class act
During the conference, ACP gave "Couponing 101," a learning experience for the attendees who were new to the coupon industry. Using coupons to promote products is complicated. It involves a lot of money. And coupon promotions can cause serious problems if not properly handled. The introductory session outlined the entire coupon process from creation and distribution through redemption. The instructors explained the elements of the 12-digit bar code and the extended bar codes found on most coupons. They recommended size, shape, color and vital elements of coupons. They gave examples of "bad" coupons that produce incorrect discounts when scanned and the reasons why some coupons don't scan.
Everyone at the coupon conference was interested in the future of Internet coupons. These are the coupons you find on the Internet and print out on your computer. Internet coupons represented only 1/10 of 1 percent of the coupons distributed in 2002, but this grew by 111 percent over the previous year. Shoppers redeemed 7.6 million Internet coupons.
XSend questions and comments to Martin Sloane in care of The Vindicator. The volume of mail precludes individual replies to every letter, but Martin Sloane will respond to letters of general interest in the column. Check out Martin Sloane's Web site at