Shopping observations: Coupons

A few weeks ago, it was a madhouse at the local Fry’s supermarket. Packed to the gills, and tons of rude people.

CouponingAlas, I stumbled across a woman doing extreme couponing. She had an expanding file folder that was literally stuffed with coupons, and a shopping cart full os odd items. This caused me to recall why I am not really a fan of coupons.

It is an American dream to get a good deal. Even more so than elsewhere in the world there is a desire to get a bargain. Coupons are an integral part of this phenomenon.

There are many reasons to issue coupons.  As a marketer, I know that they are a valuable tool to drive brand awareness, and to get early awareness of new products. If you introduce a new razor line, it is common that a promotional coupon to drive some early uptake in the market. But this often goes too far. Often people will only buy a product if there is a coupon. If that happens, then you haven’t increased market awareness or share, but instead you have created an expectation, lowering the reference price for the product or offering.

I remember from my restaurant days that we often had coupons to bring in customers. I recall that they did bring people in, but an observation was that the people it drew didn’t come back until there was another coupon. Which leads me to …

GroupOn, an online business that offers deals for people who prepay. The concept is solid, but in practice, it has had some issues. Either the business is swamped, impacting service and quality (too many deals sold), or it brings in people looking for a deal, but who don’t convert to repeat business. I signed up for a short time, but found that it was pretty much only offers for 50% off manicures, pedicures, or bowling lane time.

I am not really a user of the common coupon. Almost always they are targeted at products or brands that I am not interested in. If I am not likely to use Schick razors, it doesn’t matter how often I get coupons, even coupons for free blades, I am not going to switch from Gillette.

The only exception are the personalized coupons that are printed at the checkout register. If you are going to hand me a coupon for something that I am already buying, I will take advantage of it. They know that I buy a large number of Lean Cuisine meals, so $3 off when you buy 5 is a no brainer. Want me to try the fake bacon bits as salad toppers, and I am probably not going to bite.

Back to the store, the lady that had the file folder full of coupons, her cart was full of sports drink (not gatorade), canned beans, and an astounding amount of yogurt from the new Greek style yogurt. Perhaps that was what she needed, but I suspect that it wasn’t the top of her list.


Saying “Goodbye” to an old friend

I have to say goodbye to an old friend. We have been together for a long time. Probably 20 years or so, a good run. Alas, all good things must come to an end.

All the cans we have opened.  All the meals we shared. You have been reliable and faithful. Always there when needed. You never demanded much, but always ready for an adventure.

My original Swing-Away can opener has come to the end
My original Swing-Away can opener has come to the end

Lately, you have been slipping your gears. No longer able to cleanly open a can. It started with a few “bad” spots, but it has been getting worse. Last night, opening a can of refried beans was more than just a task, it was a travail. The decision to retire you was not made lightly.  I had hoped that you could pull it back together, but it was not meant to be.

I ordered a replacement. The sad thing is that the replacement from Swing-Away are now made in China, and had a slew of terrible reviews. Fortunately, someone is building the same design, with the old machines from the original Swing-Away company. It should be here Tuesday.

I will miss my old friend, but I will not forget it.

Hope for the future

When I was growing up, in a suburb of Sunnyvale, the neighborhood was typical. Single family dwellings, clean yards, lots of grass, and busy professionals who worked at Lockheed or Westinghouse.

There were a couple of enterprising youths who leveraged this situation by mowing lawns. $5 a week, they had their own power mower and edger, and would come and keep your lawns in good shape. Just about everybody on the block took advantage of this, and had these youths maintaining their yards.

There were other entrepreneurial things you could do to make some spending cash, for example I delivered newspapers, but yard work was seen as a perfect way to teach responsibility to kids. (of course, with gas engines and spinning blades, without much in the way of safety features, it was also a lesson in personal responsibility)

Then something happened. Starting in the late 1980’s (a guess), the advent of video games, and other sedentary activities, coupled with helicopter parents who insist on controlling every aspect of their children’s lives, and that first job was no longer a priority. The moderate affluence of the middle class meant that parents could afford to subsidize the entertainment of their offspring, and thus a generation of kids (Gen X) came to be that got through high school without developing a work ethic.

A catchy flyer, and an offer that is too good to be refused
A catchy flyer, and an offer that is too good to be refused

Now, it is common to see all the neighborhood yards being maintained by various landscaping companies, all offering pretty much the same service, and convenience. And another generation of kids has a reason to not build a work ethic. Newspapers are delivered by adults in cars, and the subscriptions paid by mail. Increasingly, the other route to early work experience (and cash), the fast food restaurant, is going to the less skilled adults who need jobs to live. Where is a kid today to turn to for making some scratch?

Then today, I saw this flyer taped to the mailbox. A couple neighborhood kids are rekindling the entrepreneurial spirit, and going to work cleaning yards. A catchy flyer, a willing, can do, attitude, and a reasonable offer. I hope they kick ass and make something of the opportunity.