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Shoppers getting smarter about coupon use?

SEBRING -Cheryl John wants to start an unusual ministry -- donate to charity items that shoppers don't end up paying for after using coupons. Recently, she donated 30 cans of shaving cream and 20 packs of disposable razors, which, she said, she essentially got for free after redeeming coupons, and wants to teach others how to do it. "If you can get it for free, get it and drop it off,"she said about her plan, which she plans to unveil at her couponing class next month. Those interested can just stop by and learn her shopping tips at the session, set for 6 p.m. Sept. 23 at St. John's United Methodist Church.
John's also one of many shoppers who still use coupons, although many marketers have tweaked their coupon offerings, affecting the way shoppers use them. That may mean shoppers are doing less of extreme couponing and more "target shopping," said Michelle Blanks Leicht, who runs a Facebook coupon page, Highlands Coupon Moms. "I do not think couponing is on a decline, but rather people are learning how to coupon better and smarter," she said. They may just buy the items on sale and use coupons to get "rock bottom prices," she explained. "Knowing about the six-12-week cycle stores use for sales helps people to not be so 'extreme' anymore about couponing, because they know that same item will be on sale again," she said. John, on the other hand, has seen the proliferation of more blogs in the last couple of years, which help shoppers get discounts for items they are looking for, she said. "You don't have to be an extreme couponer," she said. "People can only get what they need. They don't need to buy 2,000 mustards because it is cheap." While extreme couponing may be on the decline either because of the time involved in searching and clipping coupons or because shoppers don't want to stockpile items they don't need, marketers have also been tightening their coupon offerings since last year. That means, shortened expiration coupon dates to nine weeks on average; coupons that require the purchase of two or more products, particularly for food item; and shifts in the places coupons are offered, said a mid-year July 2013 study by NCH Marketing Services Inc. "Following recession-driven years of unusual redemption growth, marketers have adjusted their strategies and we have seen indications of response stabilization," said Charlie Brown, NCH's vice president of marketing. The coupon redemption volume for the first half of 2013, for instance, declined 8.1 percent compared to the same period last year, the NCH study states. Last year's redemption volume had dropped almost 17 percent, said Executive Director of the Association of Coupon Professionals John Morgan, who said the decline is leveling off this year. Morgan said the economic recession of 2008 fueled coupon use to double-digit growth. With the economy getting better and marketers tweaking their coupons, a correction took place last year, which is stabilizing, he said. What is also happening is that coupons are being offered in various places now, not just free standing inserts, which still comprise about 90 percent of coupons distributed but half of those redeemed, he said. Digital coupons, for instance, are seeing a double-digit growth although they represent less than 1 percent of all coupons distributed, the NCH study shows. These include those you print at home from the Internet, coupon-to-card formats, and mobile coupons. Marketers are using them more, also combining them with loyalty programs. Plus more consumers are using them, the study states. For those who want to save money but don't want to scout around for coupons, there are some simple ways to save. Morgan said how much time people want to devote to clipping coupons depends on the individual person, but one of the ways to save is to sign up for a frequent shopper card with retailers. Kimberly Gauger has just started couponing. "I have saved over $200 in my couple of trips I have made with coupons! So exciting to see the savings!!," she said. Iris Dejongh, who said she is not an extreme couponer, adds: "My goal is to save more than what (I) spend."