Customarily, coupons are issued by manufacturers of consumer packaged goods or by retailers, to be used in retail stores as a part of sales promotions. They are often widely distributed through mail, coupon envelopes, magazines, newspapers, the Internet (social media, email newsletter), directly from the retailer, and mobile devices such as cell phones.
The New York Times reported "more than 900 manufacturers' coupons were distributed" per household, and that "the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that four families in five use coupons. "Only about 4 percent" of coupons received were redeemed. Coupons can be targeted selectively to regional markets in which price competition is great.
Most coupons have an expiration date, although American military commissaries overseas honor manufacturers coupons for up to six months past the expiration date.
Coca-Cola's 1888-issued "free glass of" is the earliest documented coupon. Coupons were mailed to potential customers and placed in magazines. It is estimated that between 1894 and 1913 one in nine Americans had received a free Coca-Cola, for a total of 8,500,000 free drinks. By 1895 Coke was served in every state in the United States.
In 1929 Betty Crocker began a loyalty points program and began issuing coupons that could be used to redeem for premiums like free flatware. In 1937 the coupons were printed on the outside of packages. The loyalty program ended in 2006, one of the longest loyalty programs.
Types and uses
Coupons offer different types of values, such as discounts, free shipping, buy-one get-one, trade-in for redemption, first-time customer coupons, free trial offer, launch offers, festival offers, and free giveaways. Similarly, there are varied uses of coupons which include: to incentivize a purchase, reduce a price, provide a free sample, or to aid marketers in understanding the demographics of their customer.
Coupons can be used to research the price sensitivity of different groups of buyers (by sending out coupons with different dollar values to different groups). Time, location and sizes (e.g. five pound vs. 20 pound bag) affect prices; coupons are part of the marketing mix. So is knowing about the customer. 
Grocery coupons come in two major types:
- store coupons: issued by the store itself. Some stores will also accept store coupons issued by competitors.
- Coupons issued by the manufacturer of a product may be used at any coupon-accepting store that carries that product. Part of their function is to advertise their offerings and attract new customers.
Coupons exist in more than one form, and are acquired by customers in a variety of ways.
Historically, verifying the discount offered has been via presenting coupons clipped from newspapers or received in the mail. Some retailers and companies use verification methods such as unique barcodes, coupon ID numbers, holographic seals, and watermarked paper as protection from unauthorized copying or use. Other than newspapers, there are also coupon book publishers and retailers who compile vouchers and coupons into books, either for sale or free.
- Internet coupons: Online retailers often refer to these as "coupon codes", "promotional codes", "promotion codes", "discount codes", "keycodes", "promo codes", "surplus codes", "portable codes", "shopping codes", "voucher codes", "reward codes", "discount vouchers", "referral codes" or "source codes". These are typed in before the sale is finalized. Marketers can use different codes for different channels or groups in order to differentiate response rates. Free shipping and cashback are additional inducements.
- Mobile: Smartphone based, these are often distributed via WAP Push over SMS or MMS, and presented at the store or online. These also have advertising benefits even after their expiration date.
- Apps: Related to classic coupons are loyalty cards; these have increasingly been superseded by Mobile apps.
Depending on the jurisdiction, coupons may or may not reduce the sales tax which must be paid by the consumer. The most consumer-friendly tax situation taxes the actual price paid, including when the store does double and triple coupon reductions.
The above applies when the retailer is the source of the coupon, since the product is offered at the post-coupon price. In jurisdictions seeking to tax more, if the coupon is issued by the manufacturer, the original price is still paid but some of the price is covered by the manufacturer instead of the consumer and the full price remains taxable.
Coupon manufacturers may or may not place restrictions on coupons limiting their transferability to ensure the coupons stay within the targeted market. Since such restrictions are not universal and are difficult and/or costly to enforce, limited coupon trading is tolerated in the industry. Organized coupon exchange clubs are commonly found in regions where coupons are distributed. Often coupons are available for purchase at some online sites, but since most coupons are not allowed to be sold, the fee is considered to be for the time and effort put into cutting out the coupons.
Some types of coupons may be sold. The New York Times not only said "the traffic is legal" regarding selling airline discount coupons, but wrote "check the commercial notices column in The New York Times or the classified advertising section under 'Miscellaneous') in The Wall Street Journal.
- Canadian Tire money
- Coupon (bond)
- Drug coupon
- Extreme Couponing
- Love coupon
- Normal yield
- Trading stamp
- Randall Stross (December 25, 2010). "Someday, Store Coupons May Tap You on the Shoulder". The New York Times.
- "Store-Coupon use sores and spreads". The New York Times. May 5, 1982.
- Reed, Charlie. "AAFES, DeCA still accepting expired coupons". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
- Duryee, Tricia (November 6, 2011). "A Nation Divided on How to Say the Word "Coupon"". Dow Jones & Company Inc. Retrieved May 8, 2014.
- Geuss, Megan (October 2010). "First Coupon Ever". Wired. Vol. 18 no. 11. p. 104.
- "The Chronicle Of Coca-Cola: The Candler Era". Coca-Cola Company. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
- Brad Tuttle (April 6, 2010). "The History of Coupons". Time Magazine.
- Fred Reichheld (1996) The Loyalty Effect, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1996.
- Grey, Justin. "Meet the king of Australia's docket advertising industry". My Business (Australia). Retrieved 20 July 2016.
- Dana Canedy (January 2, 1998). "More makers of consumer goods are delivering samples of their products right to the front door". The New York times.
- "Best Buys". The New York Times. April 14, 1982.
- McKenzie, Richard B. Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies: And Other Pricing Puzzles. ISBN 978-0-387-76999-8, 2008.
- Charles Duhigg (February 16, 2012). "How Companies Learn Your Secrets". The New York Times.
- "Grocery Stores That Double Coupons". |accessdate=2010/04/13}}
- "printable". Advertising Age. September 15, 2003.
- Gregory Dalton (February 22, 1999). "Clipless Coupons". InformationWeek. p. 87.
- "Consumers Find More Ways to Save With Downloadable Coupons on Redplum.com". December 15, 2011.
Filed Under: Clipless Coupons, Redplum
- Claire Cain Miller (November 26, 2008). "In Lean Times, Online Coupons Are Catching On". The New York Times.
- Banerjee, Sy, and Yancey Scott (2010), "Enhancing Mobile Coupon Redemption in Fast Food Campaigns", Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, Vol. 4 Iss: 2, pp.97 - 110
- Banerjee, Syagnik (Sy), Poddar Amit, Yancey, Scott and McDowell Danielle (2011), "Measuring Intangible Effects of M-Coupon Campaigns on Non-Redeemers" Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, forthcoming.
- Bob Tedeschi (September 1, 2010). "How to Get Loyalty Card Prices Without Loyalty Cards". The New York Times.
- "PS 2007(5), Sales Tax Treatment of Coupons, Scan Cards, Cash Equivalents, Promotional Items, and Rebates".
- "TAX.NY.gov". May 6, 2020.
- Al Sunshine; Lee Zimmerman (August 8, 2011). "Selling Coupons". CBSlocal.com.
- Paul Grimes (October 7, 1979). "Discount Coupons Still Find a Market". The New York Times.
- "Held in Ratio Frauds: 3 Seized in Nassau for Selling Coupons for Gasoline". The New York Times. December 12, 1942.
- John Darnton (March 3, 1981). "Polish meat-rationing plan called highly complex". The New York Times.
first time .. since the war .. 3,000 people to administer .. $2 million just for printing coupons