NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If retailers want to keep good customers, they'd better give those consumers the discounts they really want.

Over the past 10 years, grocery retailers have prioritized fuel discounts over food and consumer-goods discounts — but that just isn't resonating with Americans. A survey from Cincinnati's LoyaltyOne shows that, by a wide margin, shoppers actually prefer grocery discounts over discounts at the pump. (Groceries, gasoline and travel are the top three discount choices.)

In the firm's survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers, 72% said they'd prefer that grocers offer "discounts in the aisle instead of at the pump." That sentiment is strong throughout the nation, but especially so in the Northeast, where 81% of respondents prefer grocery discounts over gasoline deals, LoyaltyOne says. Many consumers appear to be serious about that preference, as 62% of respondents said they'd switch to grocery rewards if a grocer offering gas rewards gave them the option.

In the meantime, consumers are being creative about getting their discounts where they can.

"I run a start-up, and we're still pretty new. So it's important to my family that we save money where we can," says Hunter D. Willis, president of, a Colorado Springs, Colo., website services provider. To home in on the discounts his household wants, Willis creates a Google Alert for the most-used items in his family.

"For example, I have an alert for Tyson Chicken coupons. Every time a new coupon appears online, I get an alert. Some are regional, so I can't use it unless it's my region, but some are national, and that gives us good savings," he says. "I've also done the same for the local amusement park. It's a neat trick that gives us the heads-up on little-known or time-sensitive deals." 

Andrea Farinacci, of Boca Raton, Fla., specializes in leveraging digital store discount coupons and steering them to the right place. "Many grocery store chains are starting to use digital coupons," she says. "By 'clipping' these digital coupons and sending them to your store reward card, couponing, for me, has never been easier."

To get a deeper discount, use a digital coupon and pair it with a manufacturers coupon to buy an on-sale item, Farinacci says.

Consumers should also look to alternative sources for discounts — often in their own communities. "Check out farmers markets, natural food markets and other non-grocery store providers," says Brynn Winegard, a consumer retail analyst based in Toronto. "They offer produce from local producers who don't have the distribution lines or preservative measures of the 'big guys' and need to offload production inventory prior to its perishing."

As for those gasoline discounts? Again, an alternative route can lead to solid savings. "Look to the 'warehouse-club' channel, like Sam's Club or Costco for price decreases on gasoline," Winegard says. "Also, non-chain/one-off gasoline outlets, like a mom and pop operation, are good bets — they have to offer a lower price to compete with the big oil and gas companies."

— Written by Brian O'Connell For MainStreet