Before answering the question of whether or not coupons influence my purchasing decisions, I believe it is important to define the form and [what I understand to be the] intent of coupons. A popular definition of a coupon is “a form in a newspaper or magazine that may be filled in and sent as an application for a purchase or information.” According to this definition, a coupon is obtained from a periodical, like a newspaper or magazine. A person would typically tear or cut out the coupon with the intent of utilizing it to receive a discount or rebate at a major department store, like Sears, or a supermarket, like Safeway. In my youth, I recall my mother making regular use of coupons, especially for groceries.
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Another definition of a coupon is “a voucher entitling the holder to a discount for a particular product.” The fact that a voucher is defined as “a small printed piece of paper that entitles the holder to a discount or that may be exchanged for goods or services” reinforces the idea that a coupon comes in the form of paper. That a coupon is a specialized form of paper is considerable, since this would challenge the characterization of electronic discounts as coupons thus limiting the factors determining the answer to the question of whether or not they have an influence on my purchasing decisions. That notwithstanding, if we hold to the conventional definition of a coupon, one must ask about its true goal and substance. To me, they seem to be to encourage a buyer to make a purchase by offering a reduction in the listed price of a particular item.
Purchases take many forms. Some of them pertain to bare necessities, like groceries, attire, and housing. Some pertain to utilities, like electric, gas, water, and electronic communication equipment. Other purchases are embellishments, like kitchen/yard appliances and other technologies. For many of these items, coupons and discounts are much easier to come by than for others. And, certainly, very few people would pass up an opportunity to save a few bucks if they were aware of it.
As long as we are defining coupons as a specialized piece of paper containing information about discounts and other deals, I must admit that coupons have very little influence on my purchasing decisions. Every time I find paper coupons in my mailbox, I immediately prepare them for the recycling bin.
I believe the factors contributing to this general attitude are the following: 1) the nature of currency: the fact that cash is no longer deemed to be the only way to make transactions makes fiat currency almost obsolete and on the verge of being replaced by credit/debit cards. Many corporations offer discounts through dedicated credit, debit and reward cards; 2) warehouse merchants: large warehouse stores, like Costco, BJ’s and Jetro, where membership buys one access to discounted prices on a number of items provide a nice incentive for becoming a registered consumer; 3) digital coupons: the fact that a number of companies, like Jiffy Lube, Panera Bread offer electronic coupons and discounts to their registered customers, the appeal is more attractive than conventional coupon booklets in light of the increased public desire for greater speed and efficiency of service; 4) the paperless movement: that the global community is trying hard to eliminate waste and recycle more influences businesses to offer paperless services; and 5) personal-property selling: websites like amazon.com and ebay.com provide significant incentives to visit their sites, since one always knows that a deal can be found.
Again, coupons have very little impact on my purchasing decisions. But, that’s only if we define a coupon in the very limited way I’ve highlighted above. However, if we expand the definition to apply to paperless reductions and rebates, my answer would change to a strong “affirmative” that coupons have a major impact on how and what I purchase.