Is couponing kaput?

Have printed coupons been replaced by cashback apps?

MSE Update, Tue 3 Dec 2019: This blog was last updated in September 2018, but the contents are still relevant.

Couponing and in particular, extreme couponing, took the UK by storm in 2012-2013 and many of us have enjoyed years of free goodies and following the escapades of couponers like our Coupon Kid, Jordon – see how he got £105 of shopping for £1.62 as an example. Recently, although the availability of coupons ebbs and flows, we’ve seen the rise (and sometimes fall) of cashback websites begin to outstrip traditional coupons. So, is it just a blip or is couponing kaput?

First it was the magazine coupons…

The most avid and eagle-eyed couponers will have noticed recent changes in the couponing current, and the tides beginning to turn. The first coupons I remember stacking and building up a stash of – instead of using them haphazardly – were Alpro coupons in 2013, and later 50p off tinned tomatoes making them free. These coupons were all printed in the Tesco magazine, which has had some really decent coupons in the past. 

Unfortunately, free magazines containing free coupons have a tendency to become very popular, and social media means news of their publication travels fast, so copies very quickly become rarer than a shiny Pokémon card and twice as hard to get hold of. Also, we’ve seen the breadth and value of the coupons diminish, and Tesco itself stopped sending out bespoke coupons to its Clubcard holders.

Then it was the price guarantees…

The next big wind of change to come was still supermarket focussed – Tesco and Morrisons changed their price guarantees and the number of Clubcard rewards were recently reduced in value.

Morrisons axed its Match & More loyalty card price-matching scheme in November 2015 after only a year of running it, which frustrated some shoppers as it was the only scheme to price-match Aldi and Lidl. You can see our Morrisons axes its supermarket price match scheme news story to read more about changes that came in at that time.

Then in January 2018, MSE fought the good fight and managed to get Tesco to delay cuts to Clubcard rewards, but unfortunately, on 11 June, changes came in reducing some vouchers’ boost value from four times to three times. See our Tesco loyalty card tricks guide for more info on how to max your rewards and what you can do with them after the change.

There was another blow for Tesco shoppers in July when it scrapped its Brand Guarantee – where you’d get an instant refund if your branded items would have been cheaper at Asda, Morrisons or Sainsbury's – as it said not enough people were using it. See our Tesco to scrap its Brand Guarantee news story for more information.

Just when we thought things couldn't get worse, on Wed 5 Sep, Asda announced it would be axing the Asda Price Guarantee from Wed 3 Oct, stating "We know our customers don't love it enough for us to keep it". See our Asda Price Guarantee to be scrapped news story to see the full details. Where will all the wombles go now?

Next, were our high-value printable coupons…

Regular couponers may have also noticed changes on P&G’s SuperSavvyMe website, which has always been a great source of high-value coupons for big brands such as Fairy, Flash and Lenor. Our own Coupon Kid, Jordon Cox, wrote a blog in May 2018 on the Trick to pay 1p for £6 Lenor fabric conditioner by pairing a £2.99 coupon with a £3 offer at Tesco, which, as it proved so popular with MoneySavers, did cause a few technical issues for SuperSavvyMe (oops).

Since around then, we’ve only recently seen the return of printable coupons to P&G’s website, and they’re also available as cashback offers powered by Shopmium. If you haven’t heard of it, Shopmium started in France in 2011, and works in a similar way to other cashback apps/websites like the more well-known Quidco ClickSnap or Topcashback Snap & Save.

The key difference between coupons and cashback is that coupons are ‘instant’ in nature – exchanged for a discount at the time of purchase – while cashback is often more of a waiting game. Although cashback can still save you money in the long run, there’s always a risk it won't pay out – see our full guide on Cashback sites.

When cashback goes bad – the risks

If you remember the cashback app Shopitize and wonder what happened to it, unfortunately, after problems in 2016, which saw some users locked out of their accounts, its popularity waned and it disappeared. See our Users of cashback app Shopitize furious news story for more information on what happened, and our Five major cashback safety rules to make sure you’re getting the most out of any cashback app or site you use.

The main rule of cashback is to withdraw your cashback ASAP – as soon as payable – which can sometimes mean you have to reach a certain limit, eg, it was £4 with Shopitize.

Is cashback the new couponing?

We’ve talked about the risks of cashback, but it does have some advantages over printed coupons:

  • You don’t need to buy or pay for a printer, ink or paper (saving money AND the environment).
  • You can use the apps/websites from your smartphone and don’t need a PC.
  •  Apps often show what’s available in the store you’re visiting, to save time hunting.
  • You don’t need to store hundreds of coupons in your bag or wallet ‘just in case’ you see the item on offer when you’re out.

So what are the cons of cashback?

  • You have to pay full-price for the item upfront instead of paying the reduced price immediately with a coupon.
  • The cashback could end before you upload your receipt or you could lose the receipt, meaning you can’t claim it back.
  • Your claim could be denied if you’ve accidentally bought the wrong item or the wrong size pack.
  • You don’t get to physically clip coupons (some of us enjoy it).
  • You can’t impress people with a stack of printed coupons, eg, in a job interview at MSE Towers (I’m pretty sure it’s why I was hired).

So, is couponing kaput?

We’ve seen cashback is making a comeback, with apps such as Shopmium leading the way – you can see the current freebies and discounts available to everyone on our Shopmium page.

For now at least, it seems there’s an uneasy truce between cashback and couponing, but many people consider them complementary and choose to do both to save more money on their supermarket shop. So for now I’m keeping our Supermarket Coupons page fully stocked and up-to-date with the best offers from both worlds, so check it out now to see how much you could save.

Do you think couponing is on its way out? Which apps and websites do you use to save money? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter, or Facebook.