[Pricing Nugget #025] Customers in Crisis Mode (Part 4): Smarter Discounts for Smarter Shoppers

In Pricing Nugget #022, we learned about three drivers that explain why customers become more price-conscious during economic downturns.

Today we shed light on the third driver. In recessionary times, customers want to feel and perceive themselves as "Smart Shoppers."

How do you make your customers feel as a "Smart Shopper"?

We will find out today.

But first things first - what is smart shopping?

Smart Shopping is „(…) the tendency to invest considerable time and effort in seeking and utilizing promotion-related information in order to achieve price savings (…)” (Mano/Elliott 1997, p. 504).

"Achieve price savings" = "Being responsible for price savings"

Customers need to perceive themselves as being responsible for price savings. Three conditions ensure that smart shoppers feel responsible for achieving price savings:

  1. The first is the locus of causality. Who's responsible for achieving these price savings? It has to be an internal factor that caused the price saving, not somebody else.
  2. The second is controllability. The achievement of a price saving needs to be controllable. Do I have control over the price saving or nobody?
  3. The third is stability. When I trigger the price saving again, do I receive the price saving again?

How do smart shoppers feel when they perceive themselves as smart shoppers?

They feel proud of themselves. They feel a sense of accomplishment when achieving a price saving.
It boosts their self-esteem. They are more satisfied with the price. They enjoy the process of buying and getting this price discount. And they develop good feelings about the price.

How do you make customers feel as a "Smart Shopper"?

Why is that? First, the locus of causality is internal. Nobody else but your customers clip the coupons and can attribute causality to themselves.

The price saving is one hundred percent controllable. Customers decide when and when not to clip coupons

The price saving is fairly stable, if the coupon campaign is not only temporary but lasts for a longer tim.

For coupons, it is very likely that customers perceive themselves as being responsible for achieving the discount. 

Counter-intuitive: More effort is better.

It sounds counter-intuitive: Give your (smart) customers something to do to receive the discount. The effort makes customers feel more responsible for getting the discount - and, thereby, feel as a "smart shopper."

Coupons are more effective than frictionless discounts in making your customers feel smart.

Research shows that coupons are evaluated more favorably compared to straight price discounts given the same monetary value of the price cut or the price reduction.

Coupons also work better than "Buy One, Get Two" promotions, when customers do not have to do anything to get these promotions.

How widespread are coupons? 

Let us look at some market research - for the U.S. in this case.

In the US, 58% of consumers look for coupons at least once a week. An additional 25% look for coupons at least once a month. In total, more than 80% of customers look for coupons at least monthly.

Customers do not look for coupons only in a physical form and take their scissors to cut out coupons from a physical piece of paper.

We are also talking about digital coupons. 44% of participants in the survey use couponing sites, apps, and browser extensions regularly, and more than 50% even follow couponing blocks and social media accounts.

The vast majority, 87% of those who look for this couponing advice, also follow this couponing advice.

In a nutshell: What did we learn about "Smart Shoppers"?

  • "Smart Shoppers" invest time and effort to achieve price savings.
  • To feel a sense of achievement, customers need to feel responsible for the price saving.
  • Three conditions explain when customers feel responsible (internal locus of causality, controllable trigger, stable trigger-price saving relationship).
  • Coupons deliver all these three conditions - and outperform other promotional formats (at least in making your customers feel as "Smart Shoppers").

In economic downturns, offer coupons as a vehicle to deliver price saving to your customers.


Mano, H. and Elliott, M.T. (1997) in Brucks, M. and MacInnis, D.J. (Eds), “Smart shopping: the origins and consequences of price savings”, Advances in Consumer Research, Proceedings of the Association for Consumer Research, Provo, UT, 504-10.

Schindler, R. M. (1998). Consequences of perceiving oneself as responsible for obtaining a discount: Evidence for smart-shopper feelings. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 7(4), 371-392.

Atkins, K. G., & Kim, Y. K. (2012). Smart shopping: conceptualization and measurement. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management. 40(5), 360-375.

Garretson, J. A., & Burton, S. (2003). Highly coupon and sale prone consumers: benefits beyond price savings. Journal of Advertising Research, 43(2), 162-172.

Garretson, J. A., Fisher, D., & Burton, S. (2002). Antecedents of private label attitude and national brand promotion attitude: similarities and differences. Journal of Retailing, 78(2), 91-99.

Schindler, R. M. (1998). Consequences of perceiving oneself as responsible for obtaining a discount: Evidence for smart-shopper feelings. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 7(4), 371-392.

Laroche, M., Pons, F., Zgolli, N., Cervellon, M. C., & Kim, C. (2003). A model of consumer response to two retail sales promotion techniques. Journal of Business Research, 56(7), 513-522.
Schindler, R.M. (1992), A coupon is more than a low price: Evidence from a shopping-simulation study. Psychology & Marketing, 9, 431-451.