The United States and the United Kingdom are the first- and second-largest e-commerce economies in the Western world.1 According to the latest figures, the average annual spend per American online shopper is $3,851, while for a Brit, it’s $4,658 (£3,827).2
Shopper.com’s own data shows that, on average, Americans make 52 online purchases per year, while Brits make 57. This means that, whether or not they realize it, the average shopper has four or five opportunities per month to search for a valid discount code to make a saving at checkout. If the average American could find a 5% discount for every online purchase, they’d save nearly $200 per year, while the average Brit would save over $230 (£190).
But with millions of coupon codes to sift through and limited time to find one that works, how many consumers take part in the discount hunt, and how many are successful?
To explore shoppers’ relationship with online discounts, Shopper.com explored coupon culture in the U.S. and U.K. through a representative survey of Americans and Brits aged 18 to 70.
Online shopping is on an unstoppable rise. American consumers spent over $500 billion online in 2018, up 14.2% from 2017,3 while 1 in every 5 pounds spent by Brits in U.K. shops in 2018 was online, up from 1 pound in every 10 in 2013.4
Multiple factors have converged to boost the popularity of online shopping, including the proliferation of smartphones (81% penetration among Americans5 and 87% among Brits),6 more convenient shipping options (next-day delivery is now more common than economy),7 and the power of online reviews (91% of 18- to 34-year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations).8
The results from our survey show that nearly half of consumers shop online at least once a week, with an almost identical proportion of men and women making online purchases using any device. However, women are 11 percentage points more likely than men to make at least one online purchase per week on a smartphone or tablet.
This could partly be due to the fact that women tend to spend more time on their phones than men,9 particularly among younger people.10 It may also be because women make purchases more often than men, especially in product categories that lend themselves to frequent, smaller shops. For example, previous research has shown that women are more likely than men to shop six or more times per month at mass department stores like Kohl’s or J.C. Penney.11 Mobile devices help shoppers make these quick, small purchases while on the move.
With so many purchases being made online, competition between retailers for consumers’ attention and money is greater than ever. They must increasingly find ways to incentivize the act of choosing their store instead of a competitor’s, and chief among their tools for doing so are discounts in the form of online coupons.
Where there are online shoppers, there are bargain hunters. 95.4% of Americans and 86.9% of Brits said they’ve used an online coupon to claim a discount at least once.
There’s a big difference between a discount that lands in a shopper’s lap when they reach a store’s checkout page (i.e., one that’s automatically applied for every eligible customer) and a shopper opening a new tab and actively searching for discount codes to try. Throughout this report, we look at the second scenario unless stated otherwise.
Eight in 10 people said they at least occasionally search for coupon codes before completing an online purchase, while half said they go on the hunt for at least half of the purchases they make. Nearly a third (28.6%) said they look for a chance to save almost every time they add to their cart.
Overall, Brits are less likely than Americans to always search for a discount code (1 in 4 vs. 1 in 3).
American and British women search for discount codes at a similar rate (respectively, 40.2% and 36.7% always look for a code), but there’s a bigger gap between men on either side of the pond. 25.2% of American men always search for a coupon, compared to 16.6% of British male shoppers.
Millennials (born 1981–1996)12 are more likely than other generations to search for online discounts for at least half of their purchases, (67% of women and 49.9% of men), but generally speaking, the prevalence of online coupon hunting is remarkably similar across age groups. 48.8% of females aged 55–70 search for codes at least half the time, compared to 52.2% of females aged 22 or under.
Around 1 in 7 people could be called a “super shopper.” This cohort of consumers shops online at least once per week and searches for a discount code for almost every purchase. 16.3% of Americans and 13.7% of Brits are super shoppers, and together they account for 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 of all online purchases in their respective countries.
Super shoppers also make the majority of searches for online coupons (59.3% in the United States and 53.1% in the U.K.), and two-thirds of all successfully applied online discounts come from these savvy shoppers.
Compared to the average, super shoppers are more likely to have salaries over $30,000/£25,000, be women, have children, and own a home.
The odds of being a super shopper
If you stopped a 30-year-old American man in the street who earned $30,000 or less and wasn’t a parent or homeowner, there’d be an 8% chance that he’s a super shopper.
If that person were a woman, her chance of being a super shopper would almost double to 15.1%.
If that 30-year-old American woman earned more than $30,000, there would be a 20.3% chance that she’s a super shopper.
That woman is even more likely to be a super shopper if she owns her home (28.9%), and more likely still if she’s a parent too (36.1%).
In contrast to super shoppers (those who search for a valid coupon almost every time they shop online), some always miss out on the chance to make a saving.
5.9% of Americans said they want to use codes to earn a discount but either find them too difficult to locate or didn’t realize it was possible to discover a coupon by searching online. While this group is proportionally small, when extrapolated to the U.S. adult population (ages 18 to 70), 5.9% represents 13 million consumers who want to use coupons but currently aren’t able to.
In the U.K., the percentage of people missing out is twice that of the U.S. at 12.1% – equivalent to 5 million British consumers.
People unaware of coupons or unable to find them are no doubt still making purchases online, so retailers aren’t missing out entirely. But there’s a compelling reason to welcome these shoppers into the world of savings, as roughly 79% of shoppers who identify as “brand loyal” say they’re influenced to buy from a brand they wouldn’t typically choose if that brand offers coupons.13
So far, we’ve seen that half of shoppers search for discount codes for at least half of their online purchases and that nearly a third open a new tab and go on the hunt almost every time. But how many of these searches put a smile on shoppers’ faces because they successfully save money using discount codes?
Our results show that the average American typically searches for a coupon online every 11.8 days, compared to every 12.4 days for the average Brit. They both spend about the same amount of time searching (7.3 and 6.8 minutes, respectively), which equates to around four minutes per week. Extrapolating these numbers across all shoppers shows that Americans spend 13 million hours per week searching for online discounts, while Brits hunt for savings for 2 million hours per week.
However, based on search success rates reported by shoppers, half the time they spend looking for online savings is wasted, as they’re unable to find a code that saves them money at checkout.
Not all shoppers struggle to the same degree to find valid discounts. Women are roughly twice as likely as men to say they “rarely or never fail to find a working coupon” (22.6% versus 12.9%).
Super shoppers are over three times more likely than non-super shoppers to say they rarely or never fail to find valid offers. This could be because they’re simply better at searching due to experience, as 27.8% of people who search for coupons at least half of the time said they rarely or never struggle, compared to 7.7% of people who search for coupons less frequently.
If the time Americans spend searching in vain for valid discounts were pooled and valued according to the average U.S. hourly wage, it would be worth $154 million per week.14 For Brits, it would be £14.3 million.15
Another way to think about the value of the time wasted is in missed opportunities for retailers. In 2018, 46% of Americans said they’d abandoned a shopping cart because the coupon code they tried didn’t work.16 In fact, invalid codes were more likely to turn away shoppers than having to reenter their shipping and credit card information or orders taking a long time to ship. This is a convincing reason for retailers to better connect shoppers with codes that work.
In sales, friction is anything that slows down the customer’s buying journey. Friction points in e-commerce could include a website that’s slow to load, a product page that’s difficult to navigate, negative reviews, or unappealing delivery options.
There are major friction points, such as those just listed, but there are also smaller pain points that many shoppers prefer to skip when they have the choice. Actively searching for discount codes is one of them. Why manually trawl through multiple sites, battling pop-ups and adverts, when a tool can do the hard work for you?
Dozens of browser extensions save shoppers money by automatically applying coupons at checkout, including the Shopper.com extension, which uses coupons handpicked by shoppers to collect more working codes than anywhere else online.
Alongside browser extensions, some apps organize codes for use in-store and online. We asked our survey takers if and why they use both of these tools.
One in 3 Americans uses a browser extension to help them efficiently find and apply coupons when shopping online – twice the proportion of Brits (30% versus 15.3%).
Apps aren’t as common as extensions at the moment, with 1 in 10 Americans and 1 in 20 Brits saying they use apps to find discounts. However, given that mobile commerce is set to overtake desktop sales globally by 2023, and the U.K.’s market is expected to nearly double, the popularity of coupon apps is sure to rise.17
According to current users, the main benefit of using coupon tools instead of doing manual searches is that they save time. 58.2% said saving time was the main reason they like the tools. One in 5 users pointed out that a major benefit of the tools is that they collect a lot of coupons in one place, while around 1 in 8 said tools give them confidence that they’ve found the best available discount.
Only 1 in 10 users said they like using tools because they don’t think they’d be able to find coupons by hand, which reinforces the finding that convenience is king, and a frictionless shopping experience matters above all else.
To estimate the potential growth in the use of coupon extensions and apps, we asked Americans and Brits whether they currently use these tools and, if not, whether they’d be interested in trying them in the next 12 months.
One-third of Americans currently use an app or extension to find online discounts, equal to an estimated 73.4 million people. In the U.K., the equivalent figures are 17.4% and 7.6 million shoppers.
After learning about the existence and main benefits of coupon tools, 15.8% of Americans said they’d be interested in trying an extension or app in the next 12 months. If that potential were fully realized, it would create 34.5 million new coupon tool users, a growth of 47% and a total coupon tool user base of 108 million people.
In the U.K., the potential is even greater, as 33.7% of people said they’d be interested in trying the tools in the next year, which would equal 14.7 million new users, a 193% growth, and a total user base of 22 million people.
If every American who said they’d like to try a coupon tool did so in the next year and was able to find a 10% discount on half of their online purchases, they would save $192 each, representing total savings of $6.64 billion. Brits would save £191.35 each, totaling £2.81 billion.18
A large number of digital discounts aren’t personalized or limited to one-time use, which means that, in many cases, anyone who makes a qualifying purchase can save if they’re able to find the right code at the right time.
Our results suggest that coupon hunting is very much a team sport. 41.6% of women and 32.3% of men have helped a friend or family member find a suitable online discount code. Similar portions of men and women (49.3% and 32.3%) have shared a code they already possessed with someone they know, which serves as a clear reminder that coupons can be a highly effective marketing tool.
Perhaps most interestingly, 17.5% of women have shared a discount code with people they don’t know personally through an online community.
Swapping codes with strangers to find deals that personally interest you is a particularly modern approach to saving money, and one that wasn’t possible in the same way before the internet. Our findings show that someone is most likely to share a code with others online at the age of 35, which is when many people start families and are especially keen to make a saving.
Each stage of the customer journey comes with its own emotion attached, from the desire to acquire a shiny new thing to the hunt for the best price, the thrill of pressing the “Pay Now” button, and the anticipation of the purchase being delivered.
But what emotion is created when shoppers realize shortly after checking out that they could have made a saving if only they’d been aware of the right working discount code? Do they beat themselves up, or aim their annoyance at the retailer for failing to give them a heads-up?
Most shoppers (86.4%) feel frustrated at themselves when they miss out on making a modest saving (10%) on an online purchase. This could be because they know that many discount codes are publically available, such as on code aggregation sites, and that the difference between making a saving and full price ultimately hinges on their decision to check out without searching for offers.
However, a third of shoppers felt frustrated at the store for not making them aware of the savings they could have made. Six in 10 people would do nothing to resolve their frustration, while 1 in 5 (22.4%) said they’d consider asking the store to discount the difference if they found themselves shortchanged on a saving. More concerning for retailers, 1 in 15 (6.8%) said they’d shop at a different store in the future.
Making a saving thanks to a discount code is always a good feeling, but our results suggest that how a shopper comes to apply the code makes a difference in how positive they feel.
Imagine browsing an online clothing store and noticing a 15% discount banner at the top of the homepage. Simply use the code “15SAVE” at checkout to make a saving. Now imagine seeing no such discount on the retailer’s site. Instead, you search for one manually off-site or use a coupon-hunting browser extension to try a few for you. You discover the 15SAVE code thanks to your own ingenuity.
Our results show that when shoppers find coupons themselves, without the retailer offering them upfront, they feel savvier. Americans feel 3.1x savvier and Brits 1.6x.
What’s the advantage of empowering a shopper to feel savvy? One theory is that it makes shoppers more likely to make a purchase in the future. Psychologist Scott Bea, Psy.D., says that the thrill of discovering a bargain is similar to panning for gold. “[Y]ou have to sift through a lot of stuff to find the gold. Then, when you find the gold, it sets off the reward centers of your brain that make you more likely to repeat the search.”19
When shoppers hunt for bargains, either manually or using tools to supercharge their search, they get to savor the anticipation of the reward in a way they can’t when discounts are handed to them directly.
Nine in 10 adults have used an online discount code at least once, while nearly one-third search for available discounts for almost every purchase they make. However, not every search is successful. Around half of the 13 million hours per week Americans spend searching for working discount codes is fruitless and wasted, while Brits waste half of the 2 million hours per week they spend searching for coupons on their side of the pond.
Millions of shoppers now use tools to streamline their discount hunting – 1 in 3 Americans uses a coupon browser extension. But Brits are lagging behind. Despite spending more per person online each year, Brits are less likely than Americans to always search for discount codes, and twice the proportion of shoppers in the U.K. are missing out on savings via discount codes than in the U.S. – 5 million Brits either don’t realize codes exist or are unable to find them.
However, a third of Brits said they’d be interested in using a tool to automate their coupon searches (compared to 15.8% of Americans). If every Brit who said they’re interested in coupon browser extensions and apps adopted one of these tools in the next 12 months, the total user base would grow 193% to 22 million people. In the U.S., it would grow to 108 million people, representing a 47% growth.
Most shoppers blame themselves when they overlook the chance to make a saving using a discount code, but a third felt frustrated at the retailer for not making them aware of the potential savings. Our findings suggest that empowering the shopper to discover available discounts is a more effective way to make them feel “savvy” than handing discounts to everyone upfront.
Shopper.com is a female founder-led retail technology startup based in the United Kingdom. The Shopper.com browser extension and app help shoppers find discounts for over 40,000 stores in 60+ countries.
Worldwide, over $500 billion worth of coupons are issued each year, but only around $3.4 billion (less than 1%) of coupons are ever redeemed. For shoppers, the biggest challenge is finding the right coupon when they shop online. Shopper.com addresses this issue by using AI and a growing community of savvy bargain hunters to create applications that automatically apply codes at checkout.
Shopper.com commissioned an independent survey of 1,251 American and British consumers aged 18 to 70. To avoid self-selection bias, survey respondents were not told in advance the survey was about coupons or coupon tools.
To extrapolate the results to the national level, responses were age-weighted using U.S. and U.K. 2018 population estimates.
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