My birthdate is public knowledge. I’ve entered it on credit card applications, brand loyalty program forms, and websites like Facebook. Computers all over the world know when my birthday is coming, and companies use this information to help fake a personal relationship. It’s not a bad approach, but it certainly is fake. No individual marketing employee knows or cares that my birthday is within the next few weeks, but when the date approaches I get emails thanking me for being a customer and a coupon to make me happy (that is, make me spend).
My responses to receiving these coupons vary. I have a favorite restaurant that I visit only once or twice a year. When I receive this annual coupon I save it and use it. Although I don’t shop at Best Buy often, surprisingly they occasionally have the best price for a product that interests me. I accumulate rewards at a 2% rate (on top of my credit card cash back) in the company’s loyalty program. When I get the rewards certificates, I make an effort to visit the store before they expire. I still don’t buy anything, though, unless it’s a good price.
I get a package of coupons in the mail every week for local vendors. I don’t bother looking through the envelope any more. I might have used a coupon from this package once in the many years I’ve been receiving them. I also get circulars for the local grocery store. Most of the time these are not coupons, just a catalog of the latest deals that I qualify for with my loyalty card.
Social coupons are the latest trend. I discussed Groupon recently, which changed their advertising campaign after the Super Bowl fiasco. (The company removed the controversial commercials from Youtube, but you can still find them.) Groupon negotiates discounts with retailers and then sends a promised number of customers. Often, the deal expires when a limit is reached, and sometimes, a deal might not be available unless a certain number of people sign up. Given Groupon’s popularity, that latter aspect may no longer be an issue.
LivingSocial is another social coupon service designed to help you spend your money. Through the power of social media, customers become advertisers. This company entered mainstream consciousness with a great half-price Amazon.com gift certificate deal — a $20 benefit for $10. If you’re wondering why so many of your friends were telling you about the deal on Facebook and Twitter, it’s because if three of their friends signed up using their link or reference, they got the $20 gift certificate for free. Once signing up for the coupon, you had the opportunity to advertise for LivingSocial as well.
I still haven’t used my full $20 gift certificate.
Coupons are designed as tools for saving money, but they often encourage you to spend money on something you might not have otherwise. This is why I’m very wary about spending significant amounts of time clipping coupons and comparison shopping between any number of local grocery stores. Time is valuable. Unless I could save a significant amount of money, it’s not worth the effort.
Do you feel compelled to use all the coupons, for loyalty or otherwise, that you receive in the mail, and will you take part in social couponing?
Updated October 6, 2017 and originally published March 4, 2011.