August 16, 2022

Why Coupons Are Harder to Find Than Ever

If coupons had been slowly dying for years, the pandemic delivered a sharp blow.

Seemingly overnight, roiling supply chains and the lurch from office to home left consumers desperate to buy anything they could get their hands on; brand preferences went out the window. When inflation started to spike last year, not only did retailers have trouble keeping shelves stocked, they weren’t even sure they could maintain stable prices until the coupons expired.

“The last thing those manufacturers want to do is put more incentives on those because it’s going to spike demand up even more,” said Spencer Baird, Inmar’s interim chief executive. “This is what we very consistently hear: ‘We’ve got a budget, we’re ready to go, but until we get my fill rate where it needs to be, I don’t want to mess up my supply chain.’”

Use of even digital coupons sank in 2020, for the first time, before rebounding. While most of those are tethered to a specific retailer, the coupon industry is working on a universal standard that will allow shoppers to redeem digital coupons at any retailer that signs up.

But there’s no guarantee that retailers will stick with coupons, when other incentives are gaining in popularity.

Lisa Thompson works for Quotient, a company formerly known as, which started in 1998 as a website where you could print coupons rather than clipping them. The company is scaling back printable coupons, and the app already mostly offers cash-back promotions instead.

“Honestly, it’s a dying form of savings, and we know that,” Ms. Thompson said of paper coupons. “A lot of my work has been working with the marketing team to make ‘coupon’ sound sexy.”

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