More than 55.7 million Americans are now using online coupons, representing 25 percent of the U.S. population. There are millions more who clip coupons from their Sunday paper, grab them from store shelves or use them from their mobile phones. So, in honor of National Coupon Month and the ever-growing popularity of coupons, we decided a little history lesson was in order.
Where did coupons come from? We can thank one of the most popular American beverages for that.
- In 1886, pharmacist John Pemberton created the syrup recipe for Coca-Cola. It sold for just five cents a glass at an Atlanta pharmacy.
- Pemberton and his bookkeeper decided to give out free drink cards to people on the street. Initially, they did not see widespread success.
- In 1888, Asa Candler bought rights to the formula for $2,300. He liked the free voucher strategy and took it one step further by inserting them into magazines and mailing them across the country. His plan worked.
- With the help of coupons, Coca-Cola became a household name. In its first year, Pemberton sold just nine glasses of Coca-Cola a day. Now, Coca-Cola sells more than 1.7 billion beverage servings each day.
In 1909, we saw the first cents-off coupon for “one penny off” C.W. Post’s Grape Nuts. The coupon strategy must have worked for C.W. Post, because it’s more than 100 years later and you can still find coupons for Post cereal products at Coupons.com. The only difference—instead of saving a penny, you save a dollar.
Out of necessity, coupon usage took off during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Popularity continued to grow until manufacturers could no longer handle all the retailer reimbursements. In 1957, The Nielsen Coupon Clearing House opened to deal with demand and it was official—couponing was an industry of its own and here to stay.
Other fun facts about coupons:
- Coincidentally, Atlanta, the home to Coca-Cola and the first coupon, was ranked as 2011’s Most Frugal U.S. City, according to the Coupons.com Saving Index. Residents are seven times more likely to print coupons or save them to a store loyalty card than the average American city dweller.
- The word coupon comes from the French word couper which literally means, ‘piece cut off.’
- The most popular coupon categories for the first 8 months of 2012 were Ready-to-Eat Cereal at number one, followed by Household Cleaning Supplies, Yogurt, Butter & Margarine and Adult Vitamins.
What’s the state of the couponing in the United States today? While 311 billion coupons were distributed in 2011, 3.5 billion were actually redeemed, with an average face value of $1.14. Food accounted for 65.7% of those coupons. And couponing still is just like free money—whether it’s a dime or a dollar, it all adds up to savings.