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Coupon Usage Is Attitudinal, Except During A Recession

In the late 90’s, I spent some time in marketing with shared mailer Advo. Now part of Valassis, Advo was the largest mailer in the country and the largest customer of the USPS. Each week, those shared mail packages containing coupons and inserts reached most of the households in the US.

One objection our sales team often faced was the perception that coupon usage was demographic and primarily used by lower income groups. To combat that perception, we commissioned research to show that all income groups used coupons. Usage was attitudinal and not necessarily based on income. As you might guess, there are a lot of wealthy Americans who use coupons. The research confirmed our message and was part of many presentations.

In the current economic climate, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see increases in coupon usage among a lot of different groups and markets. The amount of increases will vary from market to market. According to MRI, here are the top 10 DMA’s who used cents-off coupons in the last year:

  1. Harrisburg/ Lancaster/ Lebanon/ York, Pa.
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Rochester, N.Y.
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Albany/ Schenectady/ Troy, N.Y.
  6. Syracuse, N.Y.
  7. Buffalo, N.Y.
  8. Hartford & New Haven, Conn.
  9. Minneapolis/ St. Paul
  10. Wilkes Barre-Scranton, Pa.

Source: MRI's Market-by-Market study, www.mediamark.com

Needless to say, one common element in each of these markets is job losses, particularly in the manufacturing sector. During difficult economic times, coupon usage and spending at discounters definitely increases, but this will vary from market to market. It is no surprise that these markets would be leading the pack.

It will be interesting to see if usage will hold up as the economy improves. Will this downturn be deep enough to have a lasting effect on usage and on attitudes? I’m guessing that a lot of people at Valassis are hoping that it will.