Do Coupons Make us Spend or Save?


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            I'm sure I'm not the only person who got a bunch of Dunkin Donuts coupons in their mailbox this month. Not going to lie, I was really excited about it... until I saw the money in my bank account going down. Initially I was confused; I thought these coupons were supposed to be saving me money? Could coupons really be making me spend more money?

            After doing some research, I came to the conclusion that coupons may just be the smartest form of advertisement out there. Most of the time, even just seeing coupons "can get you thinking about buying things you might not have otherwise." Advertisements are good exposure for a company, but when coupons are involved, people are more likely to go out and actually spend their money. Coupons can also entice a new customer by offering discounts for "first time visitors" with the intention that these customers will continue to return. 

Additionally, most of the time coupons "offer enticing promotions with a minimum spending requirement." Coupons are usually only valid for a short amount of time, making us feel like a sense of urgency to use them and ultimately leading to more spending.  We find ourselves willing to spend a lot more money in a short amount of time just to save a small amount in the long run - but why? Spending and saving money is all psychological. According to MediaPost, "...coupons play on short-term gratification, introducing the promise of reward, compounded by the dopamine rush that comes from snagging a great deal." Coupons literally give us a "rush" - they make us feel good.

Lastly, consumers who get coupons are more likely to use them within a week of getting them due to the "excitement" and "urgency" caused by them. According to Investopedia, "...three to four weeks later, there might be a sale where the item is 50% off or buy one, get one free. If consumers hold on to their coupons and wait for a sale, they can maximize their savings." Manufacturers know how consumers work and when they are more likely to use their money; however, most consumers do not understand the logic behind manufacturers. Instead of using coupons immediately for a small discount on expensive items, consumers need to learn to just wait for the items to go on sale.

In my case, the Dunkin Donuts coupons I received were only available to be used in September, so I found myself going more often since it is almost the end of the month. Don't get me wrong: I love Dunkin Donuts, but I don't think I would have gone nearly as much as I have recently if I wouldn't have had those coupons. I also started buying items that I had coupons for just so I could get another item discounted. Did I need a breakfast sandwich with my coffee? No, but buying a breakfast sandwich made my coffee cheaper. Was it a lot cheaper? No, but at the time it seemed like a great deal. Then the realization hit me: the more coupons I had, the more often I found myself going to Dunkin, even if it was out of the way.

While I don't agree with the hidden motives behind coupons, I can't blame companies for their "discrete advertising." As college students, any opportunity to save money is appealing; however, we need to understand the hidden dangers behind coupons to avoid being fooled by manufacturers.

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2 Comments

I often find myself more inclined to purchase something if I have a coupon, regardless if I even need the item to begin with. I think that companies target certain groups of people by the coupons that they send out. Something I might think as a great deal with a coupon, my mom would say that isn't a very great deal. www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSOBWGQUbRQ is a video on how to get the most out of your dollar.

The psychology behind incentives is an interesting thing to look into. The question posed in the title is one that explores the relationship between the buyer and product in an intimate way. By the sheer mass of coupons being produced, there must be something behind the practice that's driving companies to offer so many discounts. Here's a fascinating article from Time magazine that further details the craze known as "Extreme Couponing." (http://business.time.com/2013/05/23/how-extreme-couponing-is-ruining-coupons/)
How much influence do coupons have on our buying decisions?

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