Every Wednesday and Sunday — if you subscribe to a paper — you generally receive a healthy dose of coupons. Everything from soups to toilet paper to deli meats are frequently included in the pile. With open arms, many clippers sift through the mass to find a couple deals.
Some people collect them, place them in binders, and combine coupons with store deals. Websites and shows like The Krazy Coupon Lady and TLC’s Extreme Couponing examine, research, and find incredible coupon-based deals. Everyone seems to love coupons!
You should be concerned.
Coupons are developed by vast marketing and advertising teams for corporations. The advertising industry as a whole is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions, and a significant portion is outlined for couponing. But subtly, clipping those weekly coupons affects the psychological decision making in the supermarket. Here are 4 ways that coupons manipulate your spending habits.
1. Clip, cause cognitive dissonance
Every time you clip a coupon, your mind buys a product. Even though you haven’t gone out and purchased the item, to clip a coupon, it’s a commitment of time and action. This has a direct effect on your wallet.
A powerful psychological effect that can occur when you clip a coupon: cognitive dissonance. If, for instance, you decide to clip a coupon and then later question whether you really need the product, this may lead to dissonance. Essentially, this is a distress associated with spending the effort to clip a coupon that you now might not use. For many people, they’ll use a coupon just because they clipped it — regardless if it’s the cheapest option once they get to the store.
2. Exposure predicts spending
Exposure is the key to purchasing a product. What a simple conclusion, right? Well, stores know that the more face time you have with a product, the more likely you are to buy it. If the exposure begins prior to entering the store, you’re effectively being primed for the future purchase.
With coupons, your eyeball sees the product at home. If you clip it out, you are further intensifying the duration of the exposure. More time in front of you equals more money for the grocer and advertiser. How easy!
3. Is that really any cheaper?
One of the most important reasons that people clip coupons is to save money. Ironically, this may not actually lower your shopping bill. Coupons are not usually offered for generic, store-brand merchandise or fresh produce. Instead, they’re frequently marketing name brand items that already have a built-in premium. This added cost often voids any discount associated with using a coupon.
It’s very important to pay careful attention to the coupon you’ve clipped out. At a store, you need to look for generic items, and then compare them to the name brand item for the coupon. All of this takes a level of vigilance and time that many don’t have or care to have at the grocery store. For both time and money, just buying generic items is normally the best bet.
4. Coupons are getting smarter
Smartphones, apps, and online coupon sites are increasingly digging into your spending habits. Your rewards credit card, frequent shopper card, and web browsing history may be leeching your data to third-party companies. These organizations then will compile and predict what you want. They’re so accurate that Target can tell when you’re pregnant, about to have a child, and/or the ages of your children (read Brandwashed for more on this tactic).
By using these predictive tactics, companies can practically read your mind. If they know all your purchases and habits, coupons can be created that make you look at new, similar products. These choices may cost more over time, but offer a great deal at first. If you like the newer product more, the system has worked and you’re hooked. Now, the money is theirs to reap.
It’s not that coupons are always bad or more expensive than generic brands, but they can sometimes change your spending habits for the worse. Moreover, think about all the time that’s necessary to clip those coupons and find the special savings — this adds up. If you spend your time making more money and buying generic, this could actually be smarter in the long run!