The Coupon Society

Have you seen any coupons lately? Of course, you have. They are everywhere. In the US we live in a Coupon Society. I undertook a brief investigation into the amount of coupons in our daily lives by counting the number of coupons in today’s Washington Post. Here is why we should end this paradigm.

Not less than a total of 152 coupons could be found in the “ad package” following Washington Post today (22 October 2011). And by coupons I only refer to the cost-saving offers with ant-tracks surrounding them; i.e. stippled lines for you to follow when you cut the coupon out with your scissors. Hundred and fifty-two coupons! Not to mention the rest of the advertisement, and last but not least “more coupons available online!”. Coupons are not a product, and it takes some good will to call them a service. They are more marketing, more paper, more littering, more confusion.

Coupons do not add any net value to society

Oh yes, it does, someone might answer; “I save a loooot of money on my coupons”. Great for you, I’ll answer, but who pays for it? The customers who do not find or use coupons, of course. Coupons hunt you down; if you don’t use them they give you bad conscience for not saving those extra bucks at the shop. If you use them, you probably end up buying something you did not really need. Anyhow; you lose – marketers win. Who needs coupons? It is just one more thing to manage, that we really do not want to manage.

Coupons are the personification of our wasteful supply chains

The worst thing about coupons are not the coupons themselves; it is their symbolic relation to waste and a society living in abundance. This marketing-driven make-to-stock paradigm is ruining any attempt to build a lean just-in-time supply chain. Today, more than 40 % of all fresh food produced in the Western world end up on the rubbish heap. To put it differently; 4 out of 10 cows we kill for meat production end up unconsumed in trash cans in industry or in consumer homes.

You don’t think coupons can be claimed for that? Think again; a primary driver for cyclic production is marketing campaigns that retail chains strategically decide to run to attract more customers to their shops. When they decide to sell bacon for 50 % less than normally, fully rational customers go buy bacon. This leaves the bacon producer with no choice other than to produce like hell to satisfy demand at the campaign peaks, and then slow down. Of course, the bacon producer is not whether blind nor stupid, so he starts stocking up bacon before the next campaign. The result: more bacon lying around in the supply chains, getting older to a point where you actually have to run a campaign to get rid of the aging bacon. (Let’s not even think of what happens to the rest of the poor swine…). So even if the marketers at the retail chain earn more this way; it is not good for you, it is not good for the producer, it is not good for society. Save those cows.