Will 2011 be the year you use coupons?

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This has been a very good year for consumers who like bargains. While lower income people may need low prices, it’s middle and upper income shoppers who love bargains! In these latter cases, they’ve had a great time using one of the most time-tested promotional tools known to retailing – coupons.

Arguably, this year’s reported boost in holiday retail sales surpassing expectations can be attributed to couponing. Newspaper ads, e-mails, websites, direct mail, door hangers, among others, have all been used to flood the marketplace with discount coupons.

This really isn’t surprising. The continuing sluggish economy set the stage for consumers, looking for bargains in bad times, to increase clipping and redeeming coupons. If nothing else, it’s seen by consumers as a way to cut costs and it has become a kind of symbol of this great recession. Buying on a deal is more the norm now, even for the “well-qualified.” For that reason, experts like The Nielsen Company predicted coupon redemptions would rise.

It’s not just the makers of soap flakes and corn flakes, or supper markets and eateries, that are productively using coupons. These days, it’s the auto dealer sending out coupons for oil changes, tire rotations and brake inspections. It’s the local health spa offering special membership benefit packages. It’s an airline flying friends free. It’s the drugstore that hands you a coupon for your next visit when you’re checking out, and on and on!

I must get offered a dozen coupons via e-mail or mail daily. My wife gets even more. There was a time, I confess, when we didn’t “clip” coupons. Times have sure changed. Nowadays we look for them. Now they work for us – and, obviously, for the merchants who send them to us. In fact, coupons have often caused us to spend more in a store than we had planned. Who doesn’t like taking advantage of bargains?

Interestingly, I can’t recall ever receiving a coupon offer from a boat dealer (not including West Marine that’s big on coupons.) Accordingly, it’s my observation that dealers don’t use promotional coupons and I have to wonder why. We know coupons work in so many different businesses. And marine dealers have so many ways to stimulate business using coupons, especially in the service and accessory departments. And these days, it’s never been easier for dealers to deliver motivating coupons to customers using vehicles like email, invoice stuffers, in-store displays, postcards and even smart phones. Creating successful offers needs only a little imagination. I dare say every department in the dealership could come up with some good coupon offers, if asked.

Finally, a growing trend in couponing is to offer customers a bonus discount for cash thus eliminating banks credit or debit card fees. Customers are already seeing that at some convenience stores. In the gas station world, Citgo and BP, among others, are offering lower gas prices for cash purchases.

This week is the time for those New Year’s resolutions – you know, the ones we ignore by the end of January! But, perhaps, 2011 should be the year when we resolve to use coupons as an important part of our marketing plan . . . say, one good coupon offer each month next year. It could be one of the most successful New Year’s resolutions.

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