Special Photo: Jill Cataldo saves hundreds on groceries by making the most of the common coupon. You can, too.
Most shoppers use coupons in an honest effort to save money. Some people, however, push the limits of what can, and should, be done. Listen in to this store employee’s story:
Question: “I would like to inform you of how some shoppers abuse coupon usage. We have people who come in with 20 to 30 coupons for the same item, even though the coupon specifies that only one coupon may be used per visit. To get around this rule, these shoppers have the cashier ring up the items one at a time. The customer then goes to another store in our chain and returns that item for a full refund. Through this process, they make a tidy sum of money with very little effort. They often use $7 or $10 coupons for teeth-whitening strips, which cost upwards of $20 without a coupon, depending on the brand. If the shopper buys 10 boxes using coupons, they could conceivably return them all and pocket $70 to $100. It’s a fact that coupons generate business for retailers and marketers, but this is becoming a huge problem. I don’t want to see couponing ruined for all of us. I know people are struggling, but this is fraud.”
Answer: I’m always dismayed to hear stories like this. There always will be shoppers who try to game the system when money is involved. (And don’t get any “bright” ideas from this employee’s e-mail! The practice she described is, indeed, a form of coupon fraud and should not be copied.)
What happens when you return an item you’ve used a coupon to buy? Let’s say I buy a $4 item and use a $1 coupon to purchase it. I later decide to return the item. Note that most stores do not require a sales receipt for returns. One of two things can happen: Depending on its policy, the store may refund the full $4 selling price of the item or the store may refund $3, the price I actually paid for the item post-coupon.
Stores that refund the full pre-coupon price to the shopper do so assuming that they will receive the value of the $1 coupon when they submit it for manufacturer redemption. Other stores will only refund the post-coupon price, which is the dollar amount the shopper paid for the item. The store ultimately decides how to handle coupon returns. As this issue gains momentum, I’m guessing more stores will start to refund the price a shopper actually pays for the item. This is the easiest way to stop buying-and-returning coupon fraud.
Question: “I recently read an article about extreme couponing and how it affects the couponing community. It mentioned stores changing coupon policies in response to what’s shown on the TLC TV show, ‘Extreme Couponing.’ I don’t like what I’ve seen of extreme coupon shoppers. I can’t imagine blatantly misusing coupons and it worries me when I think about what will end up happening. It seems like couponing for regular folks is going to get more difficult.”
Answer: The changes I’ve seen in response to the extreme couponing trend indicate that some stores and manufacturers are trying to limit the number of like items and like coupons shoppers use per transaction. In some cases, the manufacturer puts specific wording in the terms of the coupon that limits the shopper to four identical coupons per transaction. Some stores now limit shoppers to two or four like coupons per transaction. This is understandably frustrating if you’d like to buy more than four of an item, but in most cases, you’re free to return to the store at a later time to make those purchases. These new limits may be inconvenient, but they’re aimed at keeping large quantities of the same item stocked and available to all shoppers, coupon-users or not.
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.jillcataldo.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.