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Grocery store coupon use declined in 2017

While millions of Americans still use coupons when buying their groceries or paying for household supplies, and billions of coupons are redeemed each year, the fact is that fewer people are taking advantage of them. There are two different agencies that have reported on their decline, and they include Inmar as well as NCH Marketing Services. Between the two organizations, they report that coupon usage declined about 10% plus or minus in 2017.

The “physical” use of coupons has been declining for many years, as more people use phone applications or other electronic services to save money. It is estimated that about 2 billion coupons were redeemed in 2017 across all sources and categories. While that is a huge number in itself, it still represents about a 10% decline from 2016 and the trend has been on a downward trajectory since 2011. My own personal experience at the supermarket is I rarely see anyone using coupons, but I will keep my eye on it now that I am doing much more cooking as well as food preparation this year. Even though coupons are free and widely available, the use of them apparently continues to go down.

One obvious factor for the decline will of course be the improved economy. The country was in a completely different position in 2011, with unemployment rate hovering at 9% back then and today it is about 4.2%, which is really considered to be full employment. So when more people were struggling to pay their bills or buy their groceries, it is only natural that they often redeemed coupons to save a few extra dollars.

Types of coupons used

The industry breaks it down into 2 categories. There are of course the traditional “Sunday paper” inserts as well as other physical coupons, such as mailings. They accounted for about 42% of usage in 2017. Digital coupons, which are ones either printed at home or used in a phone application (so paperless), accounted for 45% of usage. The digital market had a major increase in redemption last year of about 11%, so that category is growing at double digit rates.

The way shoppers prefer to get their coupons is also evolving. Many more people only want the digital version, or they want to print them up at home from an online website. As an example, now shows that about one in three families (33%) only want the digital version including phone applications. They indicate it is more convenient option for them, they are more likely to use the coupon at the point of sale, and with the technological and generation changes underway it is an only natural progression.

However, good old fashion mail or Sunday inserts is still the number one way to distribute coupons. About 45 – 50% percent of shoppers surveyed in 2017 by NCH Marketing Services still prefer a hard copy, and they want to physically touch it. That is equivalent to roughly half of the US population, though the trend towards digital is accelerating.

The amount of money you can save by redeeming a coupon totally depends on you, the shopper. For people that are aggressive in using them, there are stories of families saving hundreds of dollars per month on everything from groceries to restaurants, trips, and more. Some people only use the coupons that have bigger savings associated with them, and they focus on those deals. No matter what approach you take, it is possible to save money on your bills using them.


Jon McNamara is the CEO of needhelppayingbills.com, a company that he started in 2008 and that specializes in helping low income families as well as those who are in a financial hardship. He also found NHPB LLC, a company committed to helping the less fortunate. Jon and his team also provide free financial advice to help people learn about as well as manage their money. Every piece of content on this website has been reviewed by him before publishing and many of the articles he has personally written. Jon is the leading author for needhelppayingbils.

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