The science of coupons and why we love them so much


The psychology of coupons

Whatever shoppers tell you with their collective rational minds, remember that we buy emotionally and justify rationally. The cold hard truth is that as shoppers, we like promotions, we like special offers, and we like coupons. We like the buzz of getting ‘something for nothing’. Nothing pleases shoppers more than gaining extra value from the retailer.

A recent study, “Your Brain on Coupons: Neurophysiology of Couponing” is the first known scientific research performed in a laboratory setting measuring the physiological and psychological effects of coupons on the human body. The study looked at the neurologic effects of couponing to find out what really happens when people receive a savings offer, such as a coupon or coupon code.

During the study, some participants received a $10 coupon while grocery shopping online while others did not. The findings resoundingly show that women who received coupons during the study had significantly higher levels of oxytocin and dramatically reduced stress.

Key findings include:

Higher Oxytocin Levels. Up 38 percent, this marked response is higher than levels associated with kissing, cuddling and other social interactions related to this hormone that is known to be associated with happiness.

Decreased Stress. Coupons were associated with reductions in several different measures of stress in the heart, skin, and breathing in those who received a coupon over those who did not. Specifically:

Respiration rates fell 32% compared to those who did not get a coupon.

Heart rates dropped 5% from 73 beats per minute to 70 beats per minute.

Sweat levels on the palms of the hands were 20 times lower for those who received a coupon.

Those who received coupons were 11% happier than those participants who did not get coupons.

This was measured by participants rating how happy they were on a scale from 1 to 10 at the end of the experiment. This research, coupled with existing data, shows that happiness is dependent on a person’s physiological state and that social activities that relax us, like coupons, make us happier.

“The study proves that not only are people who get a coupon happier, less stressed, and experience less anxiety, but also that getting a coupon is physically shown to be more enjoyable than getting a gift,” said Dr. Paul J. Zak, the founding Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and Professor of Economics, Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University. “These results, combined with the findings of other research, suggest that coupons can directly impact the happiness of people, promote positive health and increase the ability to handle stressful situations, all of which is particularly valuable as we head into the holiday season when stress levels tend to be at an all-time high.”

Our own recent research confirmed that coupons are the top promotion for shoppers and now we know why – they deliver a big dollop of happiness on top of genuine cost savings. Our team can help you to deliver coupon campaigns that delight customers and fulfil brand objectives. To discover the right coupon solution for your brand contact us here.

Phillip Adcock is a commercial psychologist who has worked with some of the world’s largest organisations, including Apple, Kraft, L’Oréal, Mars, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Tesco, and P&G to help them understand customer behaviour better and increase brand share and consumer loyalty. To find out more get in touch with Phillip here.

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