Couponing Behaviors of the Market Maven: Profile of a Super Couponer

Linda L. Price, University of Colorado
Lawrence F. Feick, University of Pittsburgh
Audrey Guskey-Federouch, Duquesne University
ABSTRACT - This paper examines the shopping and couponing behaviors of market mavens, individuals who have information about many products, places to shop, and markets, and provide other consumers with market information. Results suggest that market mavens are "smart shoppers". They budget their expenditures, use lists, and plan their purchases using advertising. In addition, they are heavy coupon users and are very active in providing coupons to others. The implications of these behaviors are discussed.
[ to cite ]:
Linda L. Price, Lawrence F. Feick, and Audrey Guskey-Federouch (1988) ,"Couponing Behaviors of the Market Maven: Profile of a Super Couponer", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, eds. Micheal J. Houston, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 354-359.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, 1988      Pages 354-359


Linda L. Price, University of Colorado

Lawrence F. Feick, University of Pittsburgh

Audrey Guskey-Federouch, Duquesne University


This paper examines the shopping and couponing behaviors of market mavens, individuals who have information about many products, places to shop, and markets, and provide other consumers with market information. Results suggest that market mavens are "smart shoppers". They budget their expenditures, use lists, and plan their purchases using advertising. In addition, they are heavy coupon users and are very active in providing coupons to others. The implications of these behaviors are discussed.


An important recent finding in the sales promotion literature is that heavy couponers account for a large proportion of total coupon redemptions (Kingsbury 1987). However, attempts to identify relationships between demographic, socioeconomic and/or personality characteristics and deal proneness have not been very successful (Frank et al. 1972; Kingsbury 1987). Moreover, almost no research has examined coupon usage behavior from the consumer's perspective (Shimp and Kavas 1984). The purpose of this research is to examine a group of consumers--market mavensCwho are likely to be heavy coupon users.

The concept of the market maven has been defined and discussed in previous research (cf. Feick and Price 1987; Higie, Feick and Price 1987; Price, Feick and Higie 1987). Market mavens are defined on the basis of both their general marketplace expertise and their active diffusion characteristics. They are individuals who have information about many kinds of products, places to shop, and other facets of markets and initiate discussions with consumers and respond to requests from consumers for market information. Based on previous research, there is ample reason to expect that market mavens are active coupon users and represent a good target for manufacturer and retailer couponing programs. However, while previous research suggests that market mavens are more likely to use coupons when shopping for food and common household products and nonprescription drugs and health and beauty items (Feick and Price 1987), no additional information is available regarding their couponing behaviors. The objective of this paper is to examine market mavens' shopping and couponing behaviors in greater detail. Specifically, this paper focuses on grocery shopping behaviors. The research reported examines grocery shopping planning activities and couponing behaviors including the number and value of coupons redeemed per week. In addition, because an integral part of the market maven concept is the active diffusion of market information to other consumers, the paper examines and discusses market mavens' giving coupons to other people and receiving coupons from others.


The past several years have been marked by an increasingly prevalent use of couponing. Estimates suggest that over 2000 manufacturer coupons per household are dropped each year (Workman 1987). However, some promotion experts contend that couponing is becoming a victim of its own success because of the resultant coupon clutter (Schleier 1985). As- evidence of this, they note that the total number of coupons redeemed has not kept pace with the increased number available, and that the coupon redemption rate of virtually every medium measured by Nielsen has declined over the past several years (Schleier 1985, p. 16). An important concern is to find ways of more selectively and effectively targeting coupon/sampling recipients (Schleier 1985). The following sections review research on couponing behavior and market mavens and relate these topics to the present research.

Consumer Coupon Usage

Several researchers have focused on examining the characteristics of the "deal-prone" consumer (Blattberg et al. 1978; Massey and Frank 1965; Montgomery 1971; Shoemaker and Shoof 1977; Webster 1965). An important finding is that a group of heavy coupon users exists and accounts for a large proportion of total coupon redemptions (Kingsbury 1987). Attempts to describe the deal prone consumers have been less satisfying. Recent research found that the only significant demographic distinction was a lower incidence of female heads of households employed full time (Kingsbury 1987). Most of the research attempting to identify the deal prone household has indicated, at best, only a very modest relationship between demographic, socioeconomic and/or personality characteristics and deal proneness (Frank et al. 1972). Implicit in many models of deal proneness is the idea that deal proneness should depend on the resources of the household (cf. Blattberg et al. 1978). For example, working women should be less deal prone than nonworking women because of the effect that working has on available time. A similar relationship should hold for families with children -- such families should be less deal prone because of the impact on time. Other variables, such as income, should be inversely related to deal proneness because of their impact on the rewards from dealing. These models of household resource allocation have received only limited empirical support (Blattberg et al. 1978; Nguyen 1986).

Shimp and Kavas (1984) note that almost no research on dealing has examined coupon usage behavior from the consumer's perspective. Their work attempts to suggest how consumers perceive various costs and rewards from redeeming coupons. This research suggests that an important motivation for coupon redemption is the feeling of being a thrifty and smart shopper. This finding is consistent with work by Schindler (1984) who, using a"miniature market" research method, found a smart shopper mechanism operating in coupon usage. That is, consumers give themselves credit for obtaining a lower price and this attribution leads to desirable feelings that motivate the purchase. The evidence Schindler has compiled suggests that the personal action of getting a low price via a coupon provides a feeling of effectiveness and of winning that is more rewarding than an equivalent sale price. He notes two important aspects of this finding. First, coupon users don't admit that they are actually influenced by coupons--to win they must believe that they are using coupons for items that they would have purchased anyway. Second, if feelings of effectiveness and accomplishment are important rewards of coupon use, then consumers with greater than average needs for these feelings would be expected to be more responsive to promotions.

Zeithaml (1985) provides a differing perspective on coupon usage. She uses role theory to provide an explanation for supermarket shopping behaviors including attitudes toward grocery shopping; the extent of planning, information usage, budgeting; and extent of economizing (e.g. checking prices and using coupons). She suggests that men may perceive household duties such as being "good supermarket shoppers" as less central to their roles and do less planning such as preparing shopping lists, reading newspaper advertising and clipping and redeeming coupons (1985, p.66). She also suggests that women who work outside the home experience role overload and devote less time and effort to supermarket shopping (Strober and Weinberg 1980). . Role theory is used to explain the effect of income on supermarket shopping. Zeithaml (1985) contends that the higher the income, the lower the need to perform the "good shopper" role. The empirical results provide support for Zeithaml's role theory approach. A common theme in the work of Schindler (1984), Shimp and Kavas (1984), and Zeithaml (1985) is the importance of the "good shopper" motivation in understanding supermarket shopping behavior and deal proneness.

Market Mavens

Recent literature on shopping behavior suggests that certain individuals feel obligated to be informed about the marketplace and that purchasing is particularly relevant for these individuals (Feick and Price 1987; Guiltinan and Monroe 1980; Kassarjian 1981; Slama and Tashchian 1985; Thorelli, Becker and Engledow 1975). That is, being a "good shopper" is central to their roles. The concept of the market maven includes general marketplace interest and expertise and influence over other consumers. Market mavens enjoy shopping, they initiate discussions about shopping and they respond to requests for shopping information from other consumers (Feick and Price 1987). The market maven concept is related to early awareness of new nondurable products and search activities such as readership of Consumer Reports. Research has shown that market mavens are particularly attentive to media (Higie, Feick and Price 1987). For example, they are much more likely to read both direct mail advertising and local direct mail classified newspapers than are nonmavens; and there are substantial differences between women mavens and women nonmavens in their likelihood of reading homemaking magazines. These media patterns of mavens can be used to effectively target them with promotional materials. Finally, market mavens are distinguished by their greater participation in market activities, couponing and reading advertisements (Feick and Price 1987, Higie, Feick, and Price forthcoming). Previous research has suggested that market mavens are somewhat more likely to be female. This is consistent with the idea that general shopping as an important role may be less central to men. This is not to say that men may not be involved with and active in shopping for particular products such as automobiles, stereos, etc. (Feick and Price 1987). However, no other demographic characteristics differ for the market maven.

The relationship between market mavens and deal proneness has not been examined. Because market mavens take shopping seriously, a strong relationship between market maven scores and grocery shopping behaviors is expected. Specifically, we expect market mavens to engage in more extensive preplanning behaviors such as using shopping lists, grocery budgeting and reading advertisements when planning purchases. Moreover, market mavens are expected to make extensive use of coupons. That is, market mavens are expected to use a larger number of coupons, use coupons on a higher percentage of their shopping trips and report higher savings from coupons. Finally, because market mavens provide marketplace information, they are expected also to clip coupons to give to other consumers. Coupon "exchange" has not been explored in previous research on couponing, but may have important implications for marketers.



Sample. Survey data were obtained by telephone interviews with a sample selected by random digit dialing. Interviews were conducted during the last week of January 1987 with residents of a northeastern metropolitan area. The sample was a follow up study of individuals contacted in April 1986. Details on that study are included in Higie, Feick and Price (1987). In the 1986 study, 303 interviews were completed for a response rate of 67 percent. In the follow up study, only 259 respondents could be recontacted. Of these, 213 agreed to be interviewed a second time. It is the responses of these 213 individuals that are reported here. Demographics of the respondents closely match 1980 county census figures for the metropolitan area.

Measurement. Respondents to the study reported on a set of shopping and couponing behaviors and demographics, and were administered the market maven scale from Feick and Price (1987). The scale measures perceived general marketplace knowledge and information diffusion characteristics and includes six items. To form the scale, the scores on the items were summed. In the Feick and Price (1987) study, the market maven scale had a mean of 25.6 and a standard deviation of 8.5, and a trichotomization of all respondents categorized them as low (31%), medium (37%) and high (32%). Because of the consistency between the measurement characteristics of the market maven in this study and the Feick and Price study, we classified respondents using the cutoff points developed in the earlier study. Based on the respondent's score on the market maven scale, each respondent was classified as low (29%) medium (37%) or high (34%) on the scale. Following the convention of previous studies, individuals in the high market maven score group will be referred to as market mavens. Demographic characteristics of the market maven groups are reported in Feick and Price (1987), Higie, Feick and Price (1987), and Price, Feick and Higie (1987). In summary, the groups do not differ significantly on demographic characteristics except sex - market mavens are most likely to be female.

Qualitative Data

To provide more depth on the shopping and couponing behaviors of market mavens, we supplemented the survey data with qualitative data based on interviews with ten individuals qualifying as market mavens on the market maven scale. Four of these individuals were interviewed together in a focus group format, while the six remaining interviews were conducted separately. The discussions from these interviews provide a richness of detail that was impossible to obtain in the survey.


Preshopping Activities

The 213 respondents to the survey were asked a screening question about their participation in grocery shopping. Only the 174 respondents who indicated some responsibility for grocery shopping are included in the analyses.

In Table 1 we report the one way analysis of variance examining differences in shopping planning across the three market maven groups. We used three items taken from Zeithaml (1985), (i.e., uses shopping list, budgets groceries and plans shopping with ads). The items are measured on seven point scales anchored with never (1) and always (7). Mean use of a shopping list is high and does not differ across the groups. On both budgeting an amount to spend on groceries and on using newspapers or direct mail ads in planning purchases, however, market mavens reported more frequent activity.




These results on market mavens more extensive planning and involvement in preshopping processes are substantiated in the qualitative data. Almost all interviewees used a list all of the time for grocery shopping. The lists were very organized, most were categorized by different product types, or even sorted according to the aisles in the store. One interviewee remarked, "I try to picture the store and think what aisle is first and go according to the store." In addition to a list, several interviewees constructed weekly menus and then "drew the list from the menu."

Budgeting also showed up in the interviews as an important facet of grocery shopping. One member summarized the thoughts of the focus group on grocery expenditures, "Out of all the bills you have to pay on a monthly basis, here's one area (grocery shopping) that you can save something. (Grocery shopping) is something in the budget, you can't avoid it, you can't leave it out, (it's) a challenge to try to save something -it's a game." One interviewee attributed her budgeting and consumer skills to her mother. "My mother was always like that, with 6 children (she was) excellent at budgeting and I watched her do it. Growing up it got on my nerves, but now I think she should write books. We were taught to be frugal and taught the importance of money."

All of the focus group participants agreed that they used the store's advertisements to plan their purchases. The typical procedure was to "go through the ads in the flyers and see what's on sale and then check the container of coupons. I write on the newspapers and attach the coupons to the newspaper so I am prepared when I go into the store." This planning using advertising sometimes changes the timing of purchases. For example, one participant noted that she had planned to buy sugar, but picked up the following week's ad and saw that sugar would be on sale during the next week. She decided to wait a week.

To several respondents, grocery shopping was more than a household chore, it was a social event. "I go Saturday afternoon when all working moms go. I see all my friends. I see a lot of people. We're all there at the same time." The crowds shopping Saturday afternoon and the hours spent at the store do not discourage this shopper because to her "it's a social thing."

Couponing Behaviors

In Table 1 we also present the one way analyses of variance of the survey respondents examining couponing behaviors compared across the three market maven groups. There are dramatic and significant differences by market maven groups for the percentage of trips using coupons, number of coupons used per week, and value of coupons used per week. Market mavens use coupons for about two-thirds of their grocery trips compared to the roughly forty and fifty percent of the low and medium groups. On average, market mavens redeem twice as many coupons per week and save about twice as much as nonmavens. The ten coupons per week redemption rate for mavens is comparable to the eight coupon per week redemption rate of "heavy coupon users" described by Kingsbury (198?), who analyzed Burke data from 1985.

Traditional resource expenditure and benefits models examine couponing using variables such as the presence of children, household income, labor force participation, education and household size as predictors. To examine the effect of the market maven score on couponing while controlling for the variables used in the traditional resource expenditure and benefits model, we ran regressions on the three coupon use variables (i.e., percentage of trips using coupons, number of coupons used per week and value of coupons used per week). To maintain comparability with the economics literature we limit the analyses to female respondents; inclusion of labor force participation as a predictor variable does not make sense, in general, for men. The results, reported in Table 2 emphasize the importance of the market maven characteristic in influencing couponing behaviors. In all three equations the maven score was a significant predictor of coupon activity. The only consistent predictor from the household resource model was household size which was significant in the expected positive direction in all three equations. Fit for the models varied from R2=.13 for percentage of trips using coupons to R2=.29 for value of coupons used per week.



Market mavens' extensive use of coupons and their coupon evaluating, gathering and organizing are given more texture if we examine the individual and group interviews. All of the interviewees used coupons. The range of weekly savings was $6 to $15. One person claimed, "I emptied a box of Tide last week because there was a .40 coupon for Crisco inside and the store had a sale for $1.69 on Crisco which would take it down to $1.29. I tried to find something big enough to put (the Tide) in. Why did I do this for .40?" This same person reported buying a second Sunday paper just for the free standing inserts, and reported saving over $10 with these coupons.

Each coupon clipper had a favorite savings story to tell in which, for example, "$5.00 worth of stuff (was purchased) for a quarter." "You hit it lucky, (you have a coupon) and something's on sale." These instances were described as "a gift from God, for all this trouble-- this is your reward for doing it, (your incentive) to keep it up." In fact, many claim they "never pay full price for an item." When double coupons are used for items on sale, one "can really clean up." One market maven voiced the sentiments of most when she stated, "I'm really addicted to double coupons." Triple coupons get everyone fired up. One maven found out about triple coupons from another shopper while in the store. "I almost knocked her over. Then I went like a mad women; I bought things I didn't plan on."

Market mavens seem to focus on brands they currently use or new products they want to try in clipping coupons. "If it's a product I need and I think I'm going to use it, I clip it." On new products, mavens see the coupons as "an incentive to try the product." "If I have a coupon, I don't mind if I lose a couple of pennies on it, I just wanted to try it because it's new."

Some market mavens had an organized system for filing their coupons. They grouped coupons into product classes, using about 15 categories. The typical system had a large box or container of thousands of coupons stored at home. A smaller, purse sized carry along organizer was kept in the car for shopping trips.

To market mavens, coupon utilization is more than just a matter of saving money. To them, couponing is "a challenge... to see how much you can save." "It's a game." "A hobby."-"It feels good". The time devoted to couponing did not seem significant to market mavens. Most saw clipping coupons as something to do while watching television, something that didn't interfere with leisure time. The act of clipping coupons appeared natural and "second nature." Interestingly, it was difficult for market mavens to comprehend any reasons for why people would not clip coupons. One maven encouraged her neighbor to begin saving coupons, "I got him into clipping coupons, now he's worse than I am.

Coupon Giving and Receiving

Another example of the market maven's involvement in couponing is their giving and receiving of coupons. Included in Table 1 are survey results on the mean number of coupons given and received per month by the market maven groups. Once again, market mavens are involved more heavily than other consumers. On average, market mavens gave four times as many coupons as individuals in the low group. Differences among the groups in number of coupons received were not significant, but again suggest greater involvement of market mavens.

Once again, the survey results are enhanced by the qualitative data. The interviewees were active coupon givers and receivers. One university employee gives and receives coupons through the campus mail. Another said, "I get most of my coupons from a friend." What's unique is that her friend has moved away, but still mails her coupons across the country every week.

To one women, exchanging coupons was a major social event. She swaps coupons after church every Sunday in the church parking lot with eight to ten people. School functions appear to be another common coupon trading situation.

Often, mavens save coupons for products such as baby items or pet products for friends and family who need these things. "I give all of the baby food coupons to his mom. My mom has a dog and cat so she gets all the pet food. My mother-in-law uses coffee so I save her coupons. I have little packets on the refrigerator. I put them up with magnets--this one's for mom... when I see them I give (the packets) to them." One market maven remarked, "It seems sacrilegious not to cut coupons for others." It appears that some market mavens are even building coupon networks. One person reported giving pet food coupons to a friend who gives them to her sister because the sister has 5 cats and 2 dogs.


In part, the results of this study simply serve to provide a richer picture of the behaviors of the market maven. Previous discussions of the market maven have noted that compared to nonmavens, these individuals are more active in information seeking and provision, are aware of new products sooner, enjoy shopping more, use coupons more frequently, and are more likely to read ads because of curiosity and because ads are good sources of information about new products. The present findings elaborate this list of behaviors.

Market mavens are more likely to engage in "smart shopper" behaviors. They are more likely to budget their grocery expenditures, to use advertising to plan their purchases, and to use coupons and take advantage of sales when shopping. The qualitative data suggest that market mavens appear to view grocery shopping as a challenge in which the objective is to obtain the most for the least. This game involves planning, purposive shopping, and the use of coupons-preferably in combination with special sales. This -picture of the market maven ties in quite well with the views of Shimp and Kavas (1984) and the work of Schindler (1984) on the smart shopper motives for coupon redemption. In their work, the feeling of being thrifty, of being a smart shopper, of beating the system emerge as important reasons for the use of coupons. In this paper, we focus on the relationship between market mavens and "good shopper" behaviors. Future research could explore the extent to which the massive growth and use of coupons may have led to higher incidences of this type of shopper.

Market mavens appear to be a group of consumers who fed the need to be a smart shopper (or who feel greater rewards from being a smart shopper) more than other individuals. Although further research is needed to substantiate the relationship between the smart shopper motives and the market maven, it is clear that the smart shopper motive in mavens does not derive from economic necessity. As noted previously, market mavens cannot be distinguished on demographic characteristics except gender.

An integral part of the market maven concept is social activity. That is, mavens are not just knowledgeable about markets but are involved in telling others about products, places to shop, sales, and so on. It is not surprising, then, that some of the behaviors described in this paper occur in social contexts. Some market mavens described their grocery shopping or coupon clipping as a social event-- an activity they participate in with friends. In previous research, the social nature of mavens is demonstrated, in part, by their helpfulness in the provision of market information to others. This helpfulness is also demonstrated by their provision of coupons to others.

Market mavens are much more likely than nonmavens to give COUPONS to others, and this appears to be more common for certain product categories (such as pet and baby products) than for others. It appears that sometimes this giving occurs in social exchanges--the church group described earlier, for example. For others, coupon giving may occur more indirectly, for example, through the mail. Nevertheless, the individuals who were interviewed seemed to agree that it was somehow their duty to provide coupons to others. Indeed, the interviewees happily volunteered advice on how to be more effective in clipping and redeeming coupons.

Clearly, the giving of coupons and motivations for this behavior need further research. For example, research could explore the incidence of coupon swapping across product categories and the extent to which these exchanges lead to changes in friends' or market mavens' brand loyalties. Even at this early stage, however, the implications of coupon giving are profound. If giving of coupons is prevalent, manufacturer and retailer targeting of coupons through particular media choices is undermined. For example, if manufacturers are trying to target non-users of their brand, but those non-users pass the coupon to a regular user, the intent of the manufacturer has been circumvented. In addition, coupon giving has implications for control and evaluation of sales promotion programs. Manufacturers who target consumers and evaluate effectiveness with redemption rates assume the targeted consumers actually redeem the coupons. Our results suggest redemption rates will provide a misleading measure of effectiveness. Recent proposals for targeting competitor brand purchases with coupons issued at check-out would be just as vulnerable. Redemption rates, which would be interpreted as measures of the coupon's impact on brand switching, would be inflated by redemption by current users who have received their coupons from others. Of course, if information exchange about product attributes and reasons for brand loyalty is also involved in "swapping parties" then there may be important unidentified advantages to coupon promotions.

We agree with Shimp and Kavas (1984) that consumers' perceptions of their coupon usage behaviors is- basically an unexplored area. There are obvious limitations to the current study that make it difficult to generalize the results of this study. For example, the qualitative data are based on a small number of in-depth interviews and provide only a partial and not necessarily representative picture of couponing behavior. Moreover, the qualitative data focused only on market mavens. Future qualitative research could usefully contrast market mavens and non-mavens in terms of motivations and patterns of couponing. The survey data are also limited in several respects. Although market maven score as a predictor variable compares favorably in terms of predictive power with variables common to household resource models, the total variance in couponing behavior explained remains reasonably small. Future research could integrate the market maven variable into product specific couponing models and models that include manufacturer and retailer variables. Nevertheless, results of this research suggest that coupon use reflects far more than household economic circumstances and time resources. Many consumers view couponing as an important reflection of their frugal values and background. Moreover, these consumers see couponing as an important way that they can exercise control and win in the marketplace. There seems to be a sense of "us" against "them". Market mavens are not just interested in winning themselves, but also in helping other consumers to win.

Finally, perhaps more than in many other areas of consumer behavior, couponing for some seems to be an example of an elaborate and well-articulated, individualized system for purchasing. Bettman and Zins (1977) note that a neglected area of inquiry is the exploration of consumers' articulated heuristics or rules for search and decision making. The qualitative results of this research suggest that consumers have rules for what they clip, where they clip, how they store coupons and rules for how the coupons are redeemed. More research is needed to elaborate and generalize these results.


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