shoppingThe next time you snicker at the avid coupon-clipper who's holding up the checkout counter at the local supermarket, consider this: The average value of a coupon for consumer package goods in 2009 was $1.37. That's according to new report by NCH Marketing Services, a coupon-processing company that's part of Valassis (VCI), a media and marketing services group.

For a little context, this figure is up 6.2% -- about 8 cents -- from 2008. That's significant, considering inflation dropped 0.4% in 2009. "Marketers went above and beyond to make the value of coupons a greater saving for the consumer," says Charlie Brown, NCH vice-president of marketing.

Cents Into Big Dollars

Now multiply this $1.37 by a record-breaking 311 billion. That's how many coupons NCH says were distributed in 2009. In the 50 years that NCH has been tracking coupon distribution, 2009 was the highest ever.

In total, consumers saved $3.5 billion with the coupons, compared to $2.7 billion in 2008 -- a difference of $800 million or 30% more, says Brown. Coupon redemption is up 23%. That's the first increase in redemption in 17 years, since the recession in the early 1990s.

For the improved savings, consumers have the recession to thank. "Looking at this economic period in 2009, clearly [marketers] were choosing to sort of step on the gas and put some more value into coupon discounts," says Brown.

Redemption Value Lags

In 2008, coupon distribution was actually decreasing until the fourth quarter of 2008. That was the nightmare quarter on Wall Street. During that period, marketers began increasing coupon distribution and have continued every quarter since. In 2008, 281 billion coupons were distributed.

But consumers aren't taking full advantage of the windfall. While the average coupon value was $1.37, the average value of redeemed coupons was only $1.09. The coupons of the highest value usually require multiple purchases of the product, like buying three boxes of cereal to save a dollar. But most people apparently prefer to use single-purchase coupons.

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