Coupon offers expired faster last year and more of them required customers to buy multiple items, as consumer packaged goods companies tried to get the most pop out of their promotions.
U.S. shoppers still managed to redeem $4.6 billion worth of coupons, an increase of more than 12 percent from 2010 and almost 60 percent more than five years ago, according to Valassis, the Livionia, Mich., company whose RedPlum products distribute coupons online and in fliers tucked inside newspapers.
The future of coupons is clearly in flux, as digital versions join traditional printed discounts; retailers such as J.C. Penney try to cut back on coupons in favor of every-day pricing; and even grocers experiment with daily deal type offers, in which consumers buy discounts on specific products.
But as the economic recovery slowly picks up speed, consumers who rediscovered their inner couponer during the Great Recession continue to clip, scan and otherwise search out ways to get a better price.
Inmar, a promotions consulting company in Winston-Salem, N.C., reported earlier this year that coupon redemption rose 6.1 percent last year, with use spiking in the second half of the year.
In its report, Valassis found 305 billion coupons for consumer packaged goods were distributed in the U.S. last year. That's down 8.1 percent from 2010's record levels.
The main decline came in grocery products, while shoppers saw more offers for health and beauty products, such as hair care, eye care and cosmetics.
"Much of the changing trends in 2011 were a result of marketers managing and leveraging heightened consumer demand for coupon savings," said Charlie Brown, vice president of marketing for NCH, a Valassis company.
For companies issuing or accepting coupons, the goal is to gain customers without gutting profits. Last year a number of retailers tinkered with their policies on how shoppers could use coupons, trying to keep the extreme discount chasers from pushing the limits.
Manufacturers also seemed to be rethinking how the promotions work, as evident in things like the shorter expiration periods. Valassis calculated the average offer in 2011 was good for 9.9 weeks. That's down from 10.4 weeks a year earlier, forcing dedicated couponers to clean out their stashes faster.
In addition, the report said 27 percent of coupons last year required shoppers to buy multiple items, say two bottles of shampoo, several boxes of rice or three bags of frozen vegetables.
Meanwhile, the face value of the offers held steady at $1.54, the report found.