It was a year of coupon madness.
Hampton Roads shoppers wanted to know everything about couponing, and they emailed, called, and attended classes throughout the year.
How do you organize coupons? Where do you find coupons? How many coupons can you use at one time?
To wrap up a year of couponing glory, here are my five favorite tips from 2011:
Tip 1: Organize
Though the binder method is the most traditional coupon organization route, many shoppers are turning to the latest trend — keeping your inserts whole.
Most blogs clue in their readers on weekly sales and coupon matchups by referring to insert dates, making this method more technology friendly.
"I don't clip my coupons until I am planning a shopping trip," Andrea Cipcic of Portsmouth says. "Once they are clipped, I use baseball card pages in a binder so that I can easily see all of my coupons while I am shopping."
Most shoppers mark the date on the front of the insert when they file them. But, if you forget to mark the publish date, look on the far left side of the insert's front page. There, in tiny print, you'll find the date.
Locally, websites such as afrugalchick.com, momondealz.com and thecouponchallenge.com match up sales at regional grocery stores with locally available coupons.
Tip 2: Look in the beer aisle
Check the beer case for hang tag coupons. Often alcoholic beverage companies will sponsor a rebate program, such as $15 off a $100 grocery purchase. The best part: No alcohol purchase is necessary.
If you don't see any of those rebates on the shelves, stop by the grocery store customer service desk to ask if they have any available.
Tip 3: Understand sales cycles
"Categories of items go on sale about every 12 weeks, so when you see that target price, you only need to stock up to get you through that cycle," says Teri Gault, CEO for thegrocerygame.com.
Making a price list is the best way to track the sales and to pinpoint the rock-bottom price.
Gault says shoppers can save 67 percent without taking the drastic measures.
Tip 4: Use BOGO the right way
Walgreens and CVS will allow you to use a buy-one-get-one free coupon during a buy-one-get-one free sale to get both products for free.
An example: Old Spice deodorant is on sale, buy one, get one free. You have a buy one, get one free coupon for the deodorant from your Sunday newspaper. Use the coupon during the sale to get two deodorant sticks for the cost of sales tax.
Tip 5: Profile your cashier
Dana Zeliff, a blogger for thecouponchallenge.com, reminds coupon shoppers to look for a young man at the checkout station.
"They are more likely to be coupon friendly," she insists.
Although most of us are hung-over from the fluorescent lights of the mall and the shock of our credit card bills, retailers are gearing up for what will be yet another difficult economic year, experts predict.
And since now is the time for predictions, here are mine for consumers in 2012.
A sales tax applied to online purchases across the board has been under discussion for years, and right now, Congress has three bills pending that address the issue: The Main Street Fairness Act, the Marketplace Equity Act and the Marketplace Fairness Act.
For Virginians, that would suggest the possibility of a new sales tax on Amazon.com purchases. Right now, shoppers only pay the 5 percent tax upfront on online purchases if the retailer has a physical presence in the state. But, as it turns out, Amazon plans to build two new warehouses in the Richmond area in 2012, and a state tax loophole will allow the Internet giant to continue to evade the collection of sales tax.
The announcement spurred debate among Virginia retail alliance groups and several Democrat politicians.
My prediction: Look for more discussion on the issue, but it's likely your Amazon.com purchases will be free of the added 5 percent tax.
Every authoritative retail prediction focuses on consumers' growing use of smart phones. Expect retailers to push interaction on your phone in 2012. In Hampton Roads, the most successful tool will likely be the introduction of additional mobile coupons.
Rite Aid, for example, launches a new mobile coupon application today, the first of the drug stores to do so. And although local grocery chains have offered digital coupons for a year or two, expect the stores to offer new promotions and incentives for customers to use those coupons. Already, retailers require customers to choose either the digital coupon or the paper coupon on a single item.
My prediction: Couponers will be pushed to go paperless.
More store events
Although there is a growing emphasis on online shopping, most companies won't survive without a physical presence.
Look for retailers to host more special events in an effort to convince shoppers that stepping outside is worth the effort.
On Black Friday, for example, Simon Mall centers, including Chesapeake Square Mall, offered a VIP Shopping Pass with special parking and access to a lounge area. Scavenger hunts and Foursquare check-ins will encourage shoppers to use their technology in a certain location, and some retailers will offer in-store only discounts.
My prediction: Retailers will reward you for interaction. Look for more promotions promising a special experience.
A push for conscious shopping
The call to shop local and buy products marked "Made in America" was louder than ever in 2011. Small Business Saturday, the Saturday following Black Friday, attracted more attention from both the media and shoppers, and emails urging holiday gift givers to pay attention to labels were widely circulated.
Even Groupon, the large daily deals website, launched a small business campaign at the end of the year. And when Lowes pulled its advertising from a TLC channel show about American Muslims, sectors of the public and celebrities like music mogul Russell Simmons bellowed.
My prediction: As political debates heat up closer to the general election, expect the retail sector to take an ideological turn.
Paitsel can be reached at 757-247-4737 or email@example.com.
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