Cashier scanning a mobile coupon


  • There’s a new kind of grocery coupon emerging in the market — the universal digital coupon.
  • By overcoming the limitations associated with prior iterations of digital coupons, the universal digital coupon could prove to be a real game changer for brands, retailers, and consumers of packaged goods.
  • The main benefit of the universal digital coupon is that it aligns to what consumers want by satisfying their demands for flexibility and value in the digital ecosystem. And, when consumers benefit, so do brands and retailers.

When Asa Candler started handing out hand-written tickets for a free glass of Coca-Cola in 1887, he hardly could have predicted that his humble coupons would eventually transform the way marketers of consumer packaged goods motivate and connect with value-minded people, or that they would become so ingrained in our cultural and economic landscape. But, that’s exactly what happened.

Now, the grocery coupon market is on the cusp of another moment that could be nearly as transformational as that one back in 1887.

What’s Changing?

Until now, if a grocery shopper wanted the flexibility to redeem a coupon at any retailer, then their options were limited to paper coupon formats. That’s because previous iterations of digital paperless coupons had to be activated through individual retailers’ loyalty programs. So, in order to activate a paperless offer, the consumer had to commit to using it at just one retailer — essentially giving up the flexibility to redeem that offer at any retailer at will.

Now we have the universal digital coupon emerging on the scene, and it promises to overcome that limitation. As the name suggests, the universal digital coupon will enable consumers to enjoy the benefits of a digital coupon format without giving up the ability to redeem those offers universally at any retailer (at least at any retailer who chooses to accept such coupons).

By overcoming that limitation, the universal digital coupon could be a real game changer for everyone involved — including brands and retailers, but especially for consumers.

Why Does It Matter?

At the end of the day, brands and retailers win by making connections with people — by aligning to what consumers want. The increased flexibility provided by universal digital coupons promises to do exactly that.

1. Shoppers want more access to value.

Among many other sources, this is supported by research from our 2021 Consumer Intel Report, which found that 82% of consumers say the most important thing when shopping for grocery products is to save the most money by going to a store with the lowest prices. In addition, 71% of respondents rank “saving the most money by using coupons and discounts” as the second most important thing when going grocery shopping. And, 74% say they can be swayed by advertised promotion and sales.

2. People are spending more time online, and they want brands and retailers to deliver value there.

The digital ecosystem continues to play an ever larger role in people’s lives. For example, with a 44% jump from 2019 to 2020, ecommerce sales have been growing at a much faster clip than brick-and-mortar sales.1 And that trend shows no sign of letting up. Ecommerce sales for the first quarter of 2021 were up 39% over the same period in 2020.2

In addition to buying more of their products online, consumers are getting more of their savings from online sources. In 2020, digital coupons gained another five share points to account for 27% of all CPG coupons redeemed in the U.S.3

3. People want a consistent online and offline experience.

People expect the flexibility to be able to buy what they want, when they want, where they want, and how they want. This can be seen in the way they are increasingly turning to new forms of engagement that span across multiple channels, such as delivery and buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS). In fact, McKinsey & Company reports that BOPIS grew 28% year-over-year in February 2020 and 18% in January 2020.4 As consumers become increasingly comfortable with the omnichannel environment, 90% are expecting consistent interactions across channels. And when they can’t get that consistency, they are more willing to switch stores.5

Whether buying online or offline, or some combination of the above — and no matter which retailer they choose to shop with — consumers are expecting brands and retailers to provide the same opportunities to easily and conveniently save money.  And, the universal digital coupon holds out the promise of finally being able to meet that demand.

Imagine the Possibilities

The beauty of the universal digital coupon is that it puts consumers back in control by satisfying their demands for flexibility and value in the digital ecosystem. And, when consumers benefit, so do brands and retailers.

But, as great as that vision may sound, we have barely begun to scratch the surface. There are so many more opportunities for brands and retailers to benefit from the universal digital coupon — some of which we already know about, and others that the marketplace is still coming to understand. In my next blog post, we’ll begin to explore those possibilities more fully.

To learn more about the format, check out our universal digital coupons resources.

1 Ali, Fareeha. “U.S. ecommerce grows 44.0% in 2020,” Digital Commerce 360. January 29, 2021.
2 Young, Jessica. “U.S. ecommerce sales climb 39% in Q1 2021,” Digital Commerce 360. May 18, 2021. 
3 NCH Year-End 2020 Coupon Facts.
4 Breidis, Holly, et al. “Adapting to the next normal in retail: The customer experience imperative,” McKinsey & Company. May 14, 2020. 
525 Amazing Omnichannel Statistics Every Marketer Should Know,” V12. Updated June 29, 2021.