Someone on Quora threw this question at me: Do supermarkets lose a lot of money to professional “couponers”? Over the years I have noticed many similar questions raised, and they all revolve around one concern: as E-commerce platforms are quickly catching up with/taking over traditional retailers, are professional couponers partakers of the forces that cause the decline of traditional retailers, most notably among which, supermarkets? Hence the question.
Graph 1: Number of supermarkets and grocery stores in the United States from 2011 to 2017
First, we have to define what we mean by “professional ‘couponers’”. Do we mean those individuals who spend tons of time on or even make a living out of, online couponing? Or do we mean couponing businesses such as coupon sites blogs? Do we include those who make it their professions to clip coupons and visit stores? Regardless of which you mean by “professional couponers”, what cannot be denied is that there are two “professional couponing” behaviors that cause different impacts on the performance of supermarkets, and on the current situation and future outlook “brick-and-mortar” as a whole.
First, if we are talking exclusively about “online couponers”, yes, their behaviors do have a negative impact on the performance of the retail industry. But one would be mistaken if he is to assume online couponing to be the cause of the decline of supermarkets, being just one among the many tactics in the war room of E-commerce.
Graph 2: Retail e-commerce sales worldwide from 2014 to 2021 (in billion U.S. dollars)
Graph 3: E-commerce share of total global retail sales from 2015 to 2021
Graph 4: Annual retail e-commerce sales growth worldwide from 2014 to 2021
As the three graphs above (stats are from) show, E-commerce is a rising giant which, even though still far behind traditional retailing in terms of revenue and market share, is quickly speeding up and gaining ground.
E-commerce derives its advantage over traditional retailing, among which supermarkets are predominant, from the low costs and convenience it offers. Online couponing is one of the tactics that E-commerce platforms employ to generate more sales by throwing out astounding discounts and unbelievably low prices to create baits. Individual “professional” couponers are, in one sense, the most injured victims of commercialism. Yes, they get amazing deals at eye-bulbing discounts, but they often end up with buying things they have no need for. This addiction to online shopping effectively blocks their way to traditional retailers. So yes, supermarkets lose a lot of money because of these “professional couponers” are shopping online instead of going to brick-and-mortars.
And if we are talking about those coupon websites, coupon browser extensions, and coupon blogs that help online retailers promote their products by posting and advertising coupons; yes, they too contribute to the decline of traditional retailers because they help to place the bait and to secure the hook to the utter entanglement of individual couponers, who by then are beyond most incentives a supermarket may offer.
However, some professional couponers clip actual coupons endorsed by traditional retailers, and they would search for and hoard printable coupons from wherever source they may find them, rush to supermarkets or local stores at the earliest possible chance, and buy as much as possible, even the things they don’t need. Some say supermarkets lose money because they offer too many deals. I beg to differ.
Those coupons are issued by the supermarket, at certain values, at certain times and numbers. They are issued because owners of these supermarkets believe that selling a handful of goods at extremely low prices helps attract customers who otherwise would not have come in the supermarket. This is called traffic, and traffic means more than how many people purchased in your supermarket that day. It means exposure, recognition, word-of-mouth, good-will, and many more. In the case of couponing, it also means addiction, compulsive shopping behaviors. All these above lead to increased revenue and, profits, if we are to believe that supermarket owners are not so stupid as to set the prices of so many items so low that they’ll actually lose money. So, getting back to your question, supermarkets do not lose money to this group of “professional couponers”, who in fact help their performance for the reasons stated above.
Some coupon blogs post printable coupons too. So they also contribute to the increased revenue of supermarkets.
Like most things in the real world, there is no simple and straight answer to this question. But as we make clear definitions and break down the complex a bit, we’ll reach different yet valid conclusions in each seemingly intertwined compartment of the question. So the answer to the question is, yes and no. But the trend is becoming increasingly unveiled, that E-commerce is steadfastly growing and relentlessly threatening the traditional retailing industry, and the fact is undeniable that supermarkets are losing money to their cyber counterparts.