May 2011 10

TLC Extreme Couponing Logo LargeIn 2010, US consumers redeemed $3.7 billion dollars worth of coupons. That’s more than a $200 million dollar increase from 2009, which was a record setting year. Although these coupons are generating sales, are they creating profits for the companies they promote?

With a struggling economy, couponing is making a comeback. What used to be looked down upon is now being viewed as “savvy” and “trendy.” And why shouldn’t it? If a few pieces of paper can save you ten bucks off dinner, or twenty bucks off your next grocery bill, I say go for it. But while some might call that couponing, others might call it child’s play.

The surging interest in coupons and saving money has sparked the creation of the new television series “Extreme Couponing” on TLC. The show follows mostly stay at home moms who have turned clipping coupons into a full time job – as well as some other savvy savers. But these aren’t your average shoppers who might walk into the grocery store with five or ten clippings. Not these coupon connoisseurs. We are talking about stockpiling a couple thousand coupons, subscribing to ten or twenty weekly newspapers, and spending eight to ten hours per day planning their next big score. And what spoils do they take away from all the planning and strategizing? How about almost $2,000 worth of products for just over $100? That’s right – the correct response is “WOW.”

Let me say that I am all for coupons. I will check the ads before I go shopping, and visit my coupon pile before I go out to eat. So I have nothing against anyone who uses coupons, or tries to save money when making purchases big or small. But watching this show has raised a few questions for me:

1. Will “Extreme Couponing” create a new shopper that hoards coupons in order to get free products? Traditionally, coupons are used to save a dollar or two off of a product that you’ve never used before. You get to try a product at a lower risk, and the manufacturer gets a new potential customer. It’s win-win. But what if people are buying ten or twenty of the same products, only when they are on sale and if they have enough coupons to make them free? The manufacturer just lost all the money they have to reimburse, the store didn’t make any money, and now items may be out of stock that other customers would have paid full price for. Suddenly things don’t seem so great.

2. Will stores start putting stricter regulations on coupons, or just stop taking them all together? If retailers have to go through all of the troubles of getting reimbursed, and are constantly stocking items that aren’t making them any money, will they still want to do it? If people are using too many discounts, they might limit the number that they take per visit – penalizing the customers who may have ten or twenty coupons for different products.

3. Will manufacturers start going to a mail-in rebate method for price savings? If companies are looking for serious shoppers, they may choose to have consumers pay the full price up front and wait for a rebate. They can also limit the amount of rebates per household easier than they can count on the cashier to limit the amount of coupons used in a single transaction.

What it comes down to is this: is there such thing as coupon abuse? Companies obviously want people to try their products, and are willing to give a discount to do so. But a company can’t stay in business if they aren’t making any money, and doesn’t print coupons with the intention of consumers using them every time. So when someone buys ten newspapers to get ten of the same coupon and buy a years worth of products for FREE – is that wrong? When companies see this happening over and over again, and the result is the loss of hundreds of dollars worth of products, will they keep letting it happen?

Of course there are up-sides to coupons. If there weren’t, they wouldn’t have been around for so long. Using coupons can get you to try products that you will use time and time again, whether or not you pay retail price. Also, a shopping trip that might start out as a few items that are free or close to it may turn into a shopping spree (guilty). But as consumers become more educated, and information is readily available, only buying specific items at researched lowest prices is becoming easier and easier.

What do you think about extreme couponing? Do you use coupons? How do you save money? Let us know in the comments below!


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