Are paper coupons on their last legs?

November 27, 2017

According to the Q1 2017 Nielsen Total Audience Report, app/web usage on smartphones during Q1, 2017 has more than doubled since the comparable period in 2015 (1.02 hours in Q1, 2015 versus 2.19 hours in Q1, 2017). Based on this type of usage data (and data such as presented by Mary Meeker in The Internet Trends report 2017, page 13), many have drawn the conclusion that traditional media, especially paper-based coupon media, is no longer relevant, as shoppers have moved on and the only way to reach them successfully is via their smartphone.

However, data from recent eMarketer studies/findings suggest this is far from the case. According to this eMarketer white paper, only slightly more than half (52.5%) of mobile device users will redeem a digital coupon even once in 2017:

US Adult Mobile Device Coupon Users And Penetration, 2014-2020

This despite the fact that smartphone penetration in the US exceeds 80%. Given this disparity, perhaps not surprisingly paper coupons remain far more commonly used. “Paper coupons are still the way people want to get coupons—even among internet users,” said eMarketer analyst Patricia Orsini. According to research conducted by ATYM Market Research (and quoted in the same eMarketer article mentioned above), consumers still prefer paper coupons:

“At this point, 79% of coupon consumers said that they normally still use regular paper coupons. 47% said they use online coupon codes. 38% print out online coupons from websites to use in stores. 25% said they regularly use coupons from mobile apps. And just 2% use other types like coupons loaded onto a store card from a website.”

Other research quoted by eMarketer draws the same conclusions about paper versus digital coupons:

“In a February 2017 survey of sources that US grocery buyers use to find deals on grocery items, Market Track found that 59% search print circulars. Only 32% of respondents use digital coupons to find deals, while 23% use the digital version of a print circular. Just 12% said they looked for grocery deals on mobile versions of retailers’ sites.”

Finally, even amongst Millennials paper coupons remain popular. According to IRI’s “Consumer Connect” and reported by eMarketer, 61% of Millennials (versus 66% 18+) clip coupons to try and save money when they shop:

Actions That US Millennial vs Total Internet Users Take to Save Money When Shopping, Q1 2017


Despite the increase in smartphone penetration and the increases in time spent with apps and the mobile web, consumers still look to paper coupons first for offers and deals. Even almost 2/3rds of Millennials look to paper coupons for offers to save them money (these same Millennials, who, according to Nielsen, spend 31:09 minutes per month on a multimedia device (compared to 23:05 for Gen X and 20:58 for Baby Boomers)). Therefore, to reach as many category buyers as possible, paper coupons should continue to be important parts of the entire pre/shop/post shop phases of the consumer journey.