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The case of the confused cashier - Jill Cataldo

Has this ever happened to you? You finish filling your cart with the week's groceries, head to the checkout lane and place your items on the conveyor belt. The cashier announces the total and you hand over a nice stack of coupons. Then, the cashier pauses. You hear the words, "I don't think we take coupons from the Internet." The cashier hands them back to you and you ponder what to do next.

While most of my shopping trips run very smoothly, occasionally even your Coupon Queen encounters a cashier issue or two. So what do we shoppers do?

One of our biggest tools to deal with checkout problems is the store's coupon policy. Most stores have a written policy that states exactly how they handle coupons presented in the checkout lane. Many stores post the policies on their web sites and others have a copy at the customer service counter in the store itself.

What's in a coupon policy? Information that shoppers can use to better plan our shopping trips! Coupon policies state specifics such as, We accept Internet coupons, We accept expired coupons or We accept competitors' coupons. Everything we need to know about what kinds of coupons our stores should accept is spelled out for us right in the store's policy.

Armed with this knowledge, well-informed shoppers know exactly what coupons our stores should accept. The most commonly heard issue with cashiers does involve the store's acceptance of printable Internet coupons. If you're told that the store does not accept them, ask to see a copy of the store's coupon policy. Most grocery stores and supermarkets do accept Internet coupons that are legitimately printed and are not photocopies.

Unfortunately, due to the rise in coupon fraud, stores are getting more stringent about the kinds of Internet coupons that they will accept. Most legitimate Internet coupons contain a unique ID or barcode identifier and several other key features that stores use to ascertain a coupon's validity. And any time the Coupon Information Corporation, a nonprofit organization that monitors coupon fraud, identifies a new, counterfeit coupon, it sends stores an alert to watch for coupons known to be fraudulent or counterfeit.

However, when a fraud alert goes out, sometimes it has a ripple effect. Our stores learn that a new counterfeit coupon has been spotted in circulation. Instead of homing in on the specific coupon mentioned in the alert, some cashiers may find it easier not to accept any Internet coupons. This not only hurts shoppers, it hurts stores, too, since the large number of Internet coupons are legitimate and perfectly fine for the store to accept. Marketers reimburse stores for the full value of every coupon shoppers redeem, whether the coupon ran in the newspaper, appeared in newspaper inserts, was found on a product package or was printed legitimately from the Internet.

Would you like another piece of the cashier/coupon policy puzzle? I've heard from many cashiers that they get very little training on their store's coupon policy. This puts coupon-savvy shoppers in an unusual situation. It's possible that you may be more familiar with a store's coupon policy than the cashier is. If you find yourself in this situation, never force the issue. Simply ask the cashier to check the store's policy with the manager. You can politely let the cashier know that you've read it to make sure that all of the coupons you're presenting are acceptable.

A cashier issue most likely stems from a little confusion that isn't the cashier's fault at all. A cashier who questions your coupons may simply be trying to protect the store and do what they believe is right. We'll continue to discuss commonly heard cashier-coupon issues in the weeks ahead.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon-workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her web site, www.super-couponing.com. E-mail your couponing coups and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com