Established assumptions about regular coupon users are that they tend to be women of color with large families who fall into lower socioeconomic brackets, said University of Arizona researcher Anita Bhappu.
But findings from a series of investigations on coupon usage Bhappu and her team have led could serve to undermine those assumptions.
Bhappu, the UA PetSmart associate professor and division chair of retailing and consumer sciences, and her team have just completed a nationwide survey that has yielded interesting findings about who uses coupons and why.
One of the team's major findings is that high users, which the team calls "coupon divas," are the most affluent, with 24 percent reporting household incomes of at least $75,000.
"They don’t use coupons because of financial constraints but because they perceive coupons as saving them money," said Bhappu of the UA's John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Given the surge in coupon usage, especially in grocery stores, restaurants and retail, "getting a grasp of the social context surrounding coupon usage is important to develop a more grounded understanding of why consumers use or don’t use coupons," Bhappu said.
This is even more important as distributors move coupons increasingly to smartphones.
"We really wanted to get a sense of what people do across the nation so that we could have a representative panel of the U.S.," said Bhappu, also a research fellow in the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing.
For the most recent study, Bhappu and her collaborators surveyed more than 250 people across the nation primarily responsible for household grocery shopping.
The team's prior qualitative study centered on how and why Arizona consumers use digital coupons and what problems they faced in the process.
But the most recent study returned far more precise findings:
- African Americans and Asian were more likely to be non-users while whites were 78 percent of the "coupon divas."
- Among the non-users, 61 percent had household incomes of $35,000 or less; 81 percent had no children living with them.
- Of the "coupon divas," 48 percent are men.
- "Coupon divas" generally used six or more coupons each time they went shopping during a three-month period.
- Of the non-users, 90 percent reported never or rarely relying on coupons for savings.
- Those who used one to five coupons each time they shopped over a three-month period used digital coupons 11 percent of the time.
Certain findings supports the team's earlier work in that "digital coupons are being adopted by the high users – they are the early adopters," Bhappu said.
"Really, it's all about your belief in coupons. The divas believe coupons will save them money," she added. "Part of it is the value perception. It's not just about money – it's about time and money."
But paper coupons are still the predominate type used, she added. That is not surprising, but confirms the team's earlier findings.
Also, the team previously believed that certain people may have avoided coupon use for fear of being negatively labeled, either by cashiers or other shoppers.
But the most recent study revealed that this might not be the case, that something a bit more nuanced is occurring.
"People aren't really experiencing stigma or, behaviorally, they aren't reporting it," Bhappu said.
In the future, the team intends to expand its study outside of the grocery context, focusing also on restaurants and spas.
"You think of LivingSocial and Groupon – all of the services offered that are not in grocery stores," Bhappu said. "We still have some hypotheses, so we will be looking to test them in these other retail environments."