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Consumers Say Good Deals Are Harder to Find

Thursday, 14 Apr 2011 | 1:27 PM ET

Are good deals getting harder to find?

Consumers surveyed by Deloitte think so. The number of consumers who thought stores were offering more value for their money dropped to 27 percent from 45 percent at the same time last year.

Streetfly Studio/JR Carvey | Getty Images

There are a couple of factors that might be contributing to this viewpoint.

"Last year at this time, retailers were still really being aggressive by offering a lot of deals and discounts, but this year they have been carefully, but purposefully, looking for opportunities to dial back those promotions," said Mary Delk, a director at Deloitte Consulting.

Retailers have been reducing both the frequency and the depth of the discounts they are offering consumers, she said.

Making matters worse, the later timing of Easter this year prompted some retailers to shift some of their sales events from March to April, and that may have impacted comparisons with the year-ago period.

Fortunately for retailers, consumers are still spending. The latest figures from the US Department of Commerce showed retail sales rose 0.4 percent in Marchfrom February, and were up 7.1 percent from the same period last year.

One positive sign was that furniture and home furnishing sales rose 3.6 percent. This may be a sign that consumers are starting to buy more discretionary items.

But that doesn't mean that consumers aren't still focused on value.

The reality is that consumers are investing more time to look for deals than ever before, and that should only increase as gasoline prices take a bigger bite out of consumer budgets.

About 60 percent of the consumers in Deloitte's survey said that they are searching more online to get the best product or price.

That's consistent with other studies. Lightspeed Research, a New Jersey-based market researcher, recently found that less than one-third of consumers said they had not conducted online pre-purchase research in the past six months. This research included checking out prices online, reading reviews or looking at competitor websites.

Even though the recession has ended, consumers are still sticking with the habits they adopted during the downturn. This includes buying more private-label brands and clipping coupons.

Valassis, a media and marketing services company, said consumer packaged-goods manufacturers offered consumers coupons valued at $485 million in savingslast year. That was a 13.9 percent increase over the prior year and a 47.4 percent growth compared with five years ago.

Meanwhile, the redemption volume of those offers grew by 3.1 percent to 3.3 billion coupons, according to research by Valassis' NCH Marketing unit. Consumers are seeking savings wherever they can, combining print coupons and digital offers to become much more strategic shoppers, NCH said.

"We find that at all income levels, people are using coupons," said Lisa Reynolds, a personal finance expert who works with RedPlum, a distributor of online and newspaper coupons. She said the average family can save more than $1,000 a year by spending 20 minutes a week seeking value from all sources, including coupon-clipping.

But their survey found most consumers invest even more time than that and save even more.

About 87 percent of people spend up to three hours looking for coupons, deals and savings from all sources, and about 86 percent say they save about $50 a week as a result of these activities, according to a recent study of consumer spending and saving habits conducted by RedPlum.

Want more proof about how mainstream coupon use is? Cable channel TLC just began a new series called "Extreme Couponing." Undoubtedly, the people featured on this show are not the norm: They dedicate as much as 30 hours a week to collecting coupons, searching out deals and even diving into dumpsters to grab offers that have been cast aside.

But the fact that a show about this type of behavior exists says something about the widespread desire to save money.

Chuck Gourley, the owner of Money Mailer of San Diego, which sends coupons to consumers via direct mail, said he has continued to see redemption rates of coupons rise, but most people are interested in making sure their money goes a little further.

And value shopping is not always about spending the least amount of money possible. Gourley mentioned a local car wash that offered free washes to customers, and about 90 percent of the customers traded up from the free basic car wash to a more involved cleaning that required consumers to shell out some money.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com

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