It’s no surprise that, when the recession hit in 2008, customers began grabbing at every money-saving straw they could get their hands on, which is probably why coupon usage has gone up 14.7 percent since then.

And while coupons are still popular—49 percent of consumers redeem an average of one coupon a month, according to recent research from Pitney Bowes Software—the reasons behind their popularity are shifting.

“The definition of value has changed a little bit,” says Steve Topper, business solutions architect for the company. “Saving money or getting more for your money is certainly still in the value equation of the consumer. The coupons and saving money are still there, but it’s just part of it.”

Topper says technology is another factor playing a major role in coupon usage today.

“Now that we have such a large adoption of smartphones and other devices,” he says, “you now have the ability to actually have the coupon with you.”

And in a world where consumers have access to a smartphone or a tablet literally at their fingertips, it may be easy for restaurant operators to assume that digital coupons are the only practical option for discounts and special offers.

But Pitney Bowes Software’s research shows that simply isn’t true. Just as direct mail didn’t disappear with the advent of e-mail, it seems that hard-copy coupons are going nowhere.

In fact, Pitney Bowes research shows that three-quarters of U.S. consumers have redeemed at least one hard-copy coupon in the last month.

“There’s always going to be an audience that wants the portability and the luxury of a really nice, relevant paper medium,” Topper says. “You’re talking about fitting into the lifestyle of the consumer, and even though smartphones are actually becoming the lifestyle of the consumer, chances are on Sunday morning, a consumer’s not going to have that smartphone in their hand as they … look at the Sunday paper over a cup of coffee.”

However, there’s no denying that digital coupons are certainly getting their share of the action, too, with 73 percent of consumers saying they’ve redeemed an online coupon over the last month.

While digital coupons certainly offer convenience, there are some inherent challenges for restaurants stemming from their usage. “Most people would cut out a coupon and have it in their wallet and they might see it two, three, four times before they actually go to a restaurant and use it,” Topper says. “It’s that front-of-mind reminder ability that you actually don’t see when it’s trapped in your phone.”

That’s why he says e-mail reminders can be a brand’s best friend when it comes to digital coupons. “Reminder e-mails can be a real powerful and unobtrusive way of communicating with your customer,” he adds. “It’s not self-serving; you’re actually helping the consumer get more value out of their meals.”

And considering that 42 percent of consumers have coupons that are out of date—which can cause frustration when they realize they can no longer use it—helping them take advantage of the value or offer can not only drive traffic into stores, but can also create a sense of loyalty.

When it comes to the digital-versus-print-coupon debate, Topper says it’s actually best to combine the two mediums. “There have been many examples where cross-channel and cross-medium marketing programs actually work better than just one individually,” he says. “Even if the digital coupon becomes the play, it may be that the person has seen the coupon or seen the offer for the coupon in a paper medium.”

By Mary Avant

Consumer Trends, Marketing & Promotions, News, Outside Insights