It’s no secret we’re krazy about coupons, but if you’re new to couponing, all the coupon types and terminology can be a bit overwhelming. Sometimes it’s just easier to start from the beginning…
1870 – 1920 – Trade tokens or “good for” tokens were issued by merchants to promote business.
Soap “coupons,” like this one issued by Palmolive, were used all over the U.S. and were typically made from aluminum. Other issued tokens were good at general stores, department stores, meat markets, dairies, bars, barbers, drugstores, and lumber mills.
1887 – The first “modern” coupon was mailed to pharmacy customers, offering a free glass of Coca-Cola.
1909 – C.W. Post offered the first cents-off coupon for his “health cereal,” Grape-Nuts.
1930 – During the Great Depression coupon usage surged, helping families stretch their budgets.
1940s – Grocery store chains offered coupons to attract customers.
1957 – Arthur C. Nielsen created the Nielsen Coupon Clearing House, serving as the middleman between retailers and manufacturers.
1960s – One half of all Americans were using coupons.
Today, Procter & Gamble’s Brand Saver, RetailMeNot Everyday (formerly Red Plum), and Smart Source circulars can still be found in Sunday newspapers.
1968 – Valpak was launched, offering mailed envelopes full of discounts for local and national businesses.
Valpak is no longer limited to the postal mail and has expanded to include a full-fledged website, mobile app, and has integrated with multiple digital wallet platforms. Similarly, these same type of local business coupons could often be found printed on the back of register receipts from supermarkets.
1983 – Catalina coupons arrived and offered a new electronic, scanner-based alternative to mailbox coupons.
Catalina coupons are still around especially at stores like Target, Kroger, and the drugstores. Check KCL’s store pages for individual deals where we’ll show you what items will prompt a Catalina coupon to print at the register.
1990s – The invention of the Internet enabled people to print manufacturer coupons from home.
Manufacturer coupons can be printed from various online sources. The Krazy Coupon Lady maintains a comprehensive, searchable coupon database that includes free printable coupons. Manufacturer’s direct websites, social media pages, and newsletters are also great sources for printable coupons.
In addition to printing coupons on demand at home prior to shopping, printed coupons can often be found via in-store displays, electronic shelf dispensers, and stickers placed directly on the product by the vendor or manufacturer. Several companies also provide printed coupons on the inside of their packaging, so be sure to check there as well.
2000s – Store loyalty cards became popular, allowing customers to gain exclusive discounts at participating stores.
Today, many grocery stores (Safeway, Kroger stores, Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, etc.), and even the military commissaries offer instant coupons and savings through their websites where you can “upload” coupons and promotions directly to a rewards wallet card or a key fob that the clerk scans at checkout.
2002 – Americans redeemed more than $3.6 billion in coupons.
2008 – Groupon was conceived, giving people more options for saving on dining, services, entertainment, retail, and travel.
Groupon was initially conceived in late 2008 to harness “collective bargaining power” and secure better pricing through bulk purchasing. It’s win-win for buyers and retailers. By providing retailers a venue to bring their products or services to a massive customer base, buyers reap the rewards of cheaper rates.
2009 – TheKrazyCouponLady.com was born, showing readers how to stack coupons and score the best grocery and retail deals.
2010 – 2013 – Target introduced mobile coupons and the Cartwheel app.
Target first introduced mobile coupons in 2010 and its mobile Cartwheel app (2013). They both offer amazing, stackable saving opportunities.
Many companies have since capitalized on this technology—including restaurants (see the best fast-food apps with coupons here)! Mobile offers can even be found on displays in-store via “Text Codes” for instant downloadable savings to use at the register.
2012 – The Ibotta app launched, allowing shoppers to earn cash back on grocery purchases electronically.
Ibotta revolutionized saving on groceries with their rebate app. Instead of clipping coupons, simply upload your proof of purchase (receipt) to receive cash back on eligible items. Since then, other rebate apps have become available like our other favorites, Checkout 51 and Mobisave. Download them all and upload the same receipt into multiple apps for even more savings.
2016 – Internet coupon codes for discounts and free shipping allow Americans to conveniently shop for anything from home.
These days, you can shop for groceries, furniture, clothing, and more all from the comfort of your own home and get them delivered for free within an hour or two if you have Amazon Prime. You can also use coupons online! Stack—sometimes unlimited—electronic coupon codes at online checkouts in order to get prices that rival in-store clearance sales. Online coupon codes are abundant (check sites like KCL and RetailMeNot), so make sure to use at least one the next time you buy something on the Web!
So there you have it: the history of coupons in a nutshell. From coins, to paper, to electronic savings, coupons have come a long way, and they’re here to stay. Follow each store’s coupon policy and stack different kinds of coupons for the craziest savings! If you’re hungry for more coupon knowledge, go here.