The recession changed how we shop

Mark Garrison Sep 1, 2015
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The recession changed how we shop

Mark Garrison Sep 1, 2015
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Susan Samtur’s bargain-hunting ability made her famous because of shopping trips like a recent one to Walgreens, where she sliced a $19.08 bill nearly in half at checkout by applying in-store savings and multiple coupons. To top it off, she had points on a loyalty card, which brought her out-of-pocket payment down to mere pennies.

“It cost us 68 cents. What do you think about that?” she beams.

"Coupon Queen" Susan Samtur plots her next move.

”Coupon Queen” Susan Samtur plots her next move. 

Eye-popping receipts like that are why a TV show dubbed her the Coupon Queen some years back. The name stuck, and she launched a whole career sharing savings tips through books, appearances, her own website and more recently, an app that’s something of a Tinder for discounts.

Samtur has made a nice living doing this; enough to support a comfortable life in suburban New York and a gleaming silver Lexus that she drives from store to store. Even though she’s under no pressure to pinch pennies, she still clips coupons and scours the web for deals, hitting multiple stores per week to get the best prices.

Samtur’s habits may sound a bit extreme. But these days, more and more Americans are shopping like her. Recent data from Deloitte, which tracks these things, finds consumers are visiting six stores per week on average to buy groceries. That’s about a 20 percent boost from the previous year. Frugal habits developed during the recession show no signs of going away, even as evidence of economic recovery grows.

“The behaviors that they developed in terms of using coupons, in terms of hunting for deals, those are entrenched,” says Rich Nanda, a principal at Deloitte.

That means retailers have to figure out how to deal with armies of Susan Samturs. With customers searching online for bargains and willing to travel to get them, old-school pricing tactics don’t work as well. Stores have long discounted certain items to get customers in. But that only works out for retailers if shoppers stick around to buy other stuff.

Stores need people to stay and shop, not score deals and dash. Faced with a new consumer reality, stores are having to try new things.

“Supermarkets are offering kind of in-store cooking demonstrations. They have in-store chefs that are helping families and trying to engage them,” says David Fikes, a vice president at the Food Marketing Institute, which represents the food retail industry.

Stores now have to work harder to build an experience that’ll keep customers in stores longer. That includes everything from textbook customer service to new ideas, such as bars where shoppers pick up cocktails to sip while browsing produce.

The economic downturn made the American shopper craftier. Now it’s retailers finding they need to evolve along with them.

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