Looking back on this past year, I have a few observations of what it was like to bargain-hunt in 2012, compared to previous years:
Smaller packages - It's been a trend for the last few years now, but for some reason I really noticed it this past year. Manufacturers have been selling less product for the same price - so for example, instead of 12 ounces of cereal in a box, there are now 11 ounces. It's really not a huge difference, but it adds up - for manufacturers across the millions of product they sell, and for consumers, if every package of food they buy now contains 1 ounce less than it used to. At some point, you have to buy more food to make up the difference.
More people looking for deals - With the economy so bad for everyone, I thought there were more shoppers looking for deals in general. More than once, I saw a customer in front of me question the cashier about a sale price. TLC's Extreme Couponing show made a lot of people coupon-crazy, which was good and bad. Good, because people - especially cashiers - seemed more accepting of coupons. Bad, because from what I heard, the show frequently portrayed improper coupon usage.
More coupon policies - The proliferation of coupons spurred stores to come out with official coupon policies, even if they'd never had one (like Ralphs). I like coupon policies because they are supposed to set clear guidelines, but unfortunately, sometimes they're vague - and even worse, many stores' employees don't know the policy and try to enforce illogical and/or arbitrary rules. It's nice to have the policy to refer them to, but frustrating because you shouldn't have to do it in the first place!
You have to work harder for premium coupons - By premium, I mean high-value or rare coupons. And I say you have to work harder, because now you often have to join a program (like Kellogg's Family Rewards or Recyclebank), like a company on Facebook, or follow a company on Twitter.
You need social media for a lot of deals - Pepsi offered free Amazon MP3 credits via Twitter, lots of manufacturers offered coupons only if you liked them on Facebook, and companies started requiring pinning on Pinterest to enter contests. Daily deal sites offer free credits when you publicize their sites through social media and your friends sign up using your referral links. Plus there are lots of apps that will pay you - not just ibotta, but others I haven't used personally like Viggle and Endorse.
Prices have gone up - I've reluctantly increased my stock up price on many items, like toilet paper, cereal and butter (and those are just the things that come to me off the top of my head). I can occasionally get a great deal that hits or comes close to my old target price, but not regularly, the way I could a couple of years ago. I just hope this isn't a trend that continues through 2013!
What are your impressions of shopping in 2012?