Digital Coupons & Mobile give Cheapskates Staying Power

The Great Recession put a wide swath of US consumers on the money-saving path, and digital tools helped make bargain hunting all the easier. These are lessons consumers will not soon unlearn, according to a new eMarketer report, “Cheapskates Online: How the ‘New Normal’ Takes Advantage of New Technology.”

While print coupons still rule the day, digital coupons have caught on as a mainstream activity. eMarketer estimates that 96.6 million US adults will be digital coupon users by the end of this year, with the figure expected to top 100 million in 2014.

Smartphones have introduced a strong mobile element into consumers’ usage of coupons. eMarketer estimates that the number of US adult smartphone users who also use mobile coupons will jump from 31 million at the end of 2012 to 40.8 million at the end of 2013.

Over time—and as smartphone penetration widens—people who use digital coupons will increasingly tend to be users of mobile coupons as well. eMarketer estimates that nearly half of US adults who use digital coupons will use the mobile variety by the end of this year, with the number climbing to six in 10 by 2015.

Beyond coupons, digital offers consumers’ additional ways to get the most bang for their buck. In a January 2013 survey of US internet users by AYTM Market Research, a large majority of respondents reported comparing prices prepurchase at least “most of the time,” including more than one-fifth who said they “always” did so.

Marketers may hope a gut-level connection with a brand will draw consumers away from their insistence on low prices. But these days, it’s bargains that create such a bond. A September 2012 Forbes Insights survey asked US consumers to identify activities that made them “feel engaged with or invested in a brand.” The most popular answer, cited by 41% of respondents, was to “sign up for special deals or email updates.”

And just as mobile is putting digital coupons in more users’ pockets, the on-the-go devices are also turning bargain hunting into an out-and-about activity.

The alignment between smartphone usage and economizing is evident in the way consumers think about shopping apps. Smartphone and tablet users said money-saving offers were the most important characteristics of apps, according to a December 2012 survey by Adobe Systems Inc.

Marketers may find all this money-saving behavior a bit harrowing. But it has been relatively painless for many consumers, thanks especially to the proliferation of these digital money-saving resources. That’s why consumers are likely to stick with these forms of frugality even as the economy gives them more slack for spending. As Steven Boal, founder of, put it: “We say ‘frugal’ is the new black.”

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