EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 18, 2013

Coupon misuse: Who does it hurt?

Coupon Queen
Jill Cataldo

---- — I’ve tackled the topic of coupon misuse in my column before, and it always seems to generate heated discussion on both the consumer side and the industry side. Here are some recent emails from my inbox:

Dear Jill,

I’ve read your column and blog off and on and have to say I’m not thrilled with your take on ‘peelie’ coupons on products. You say those are part of the packaging and people shouldn’t take them off. I disagree and think this is kind of a goody-two-shoes attitude actually. It is not against the law to take them. You have to get that some people will push the limits.

Shelie P.

An activity or behavior does not have to be against the law in order to be wrong. To me, this crosses an ethical line that I’m not comfortable with. I believe that coupons that are attached to a product’s packaging should not be removed until that product is purchased. Stores do suffer when people see product packaging with remnants of removed coupons. I’ve even featured emails from stores regarding how difficult it is for them to sell these products, as shoppers will gravitate toward damage-free packages. (Wouldn’t you?)

Here are a couple more emails sharing store perspectives:

Dear Jill,

Misuse of IRC (peelie) coupons & FSI (insert) coupons is a huge retail problem, much like shoplifting. When ‘entitled to steal’ people inhibit a store from maintaining itself, much less making a profit, the stores also have a choice: They close.

Our state lost six Shaw’s and six Stop & Shops in the same month due to performing ‘under expectations.’ I am familiar with all these stores. The ‘entitled to steal’ closed them. Now 1,200 employees are out of work.

Unless more customers step up to the plate and help their local stores prevent losses, whether due to misuse of coupons or other means, your local store just may very well close due to under performance because of those who are entitled to steal.

Anne C.

Dear Jill,

I would like to share some of what happens behind the scenes when stores don’t get credit for all the coupons they accept. Sometimes it is hard enough to get the clearinghouse to accept legitimate coupons let alone large numbers of the ones that don’t quite add up. Our store is in New Mexico and sometimes we are denied from redeeming coupons because a company says we’re trying to redeem from outside the United States. It might seem funny, but it’s not when there are thousands of dollars on the line. We recently got audited for a large number of coupons that an extreme couponer used at our store. When a store gets audited, I have to pay an employee to go through all the records the redemption center requests to show we actually sold the product. This costs us money in the long run, too. Now a lot of coupons are limited to 4 per person and we are really telling the cashiers to be careful not to take more than that because I can see it causing more headaches and time lost if we have to pull records for another audit.

Mark M.

As a shopper, I am very grateful for the savings my coupons provide to me. I don’t want to engage in actions that at best, skate an ethical line, and at worst, harm the stores I patronize. Is it worth getting a “great deal” if your store suffers for your actions later down the line? I’ve never been a “take all I can get” kind of couponer, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

Smart Living Tip: Coupon misuse is a quiet problem that starts with a quarter here and a dollar there. Shoppers using coupons for one item to buy another may be “lucky” enough to slip these coupons through at the register, but this is also a form of coupon fraud. Inaccurate redemption can add up to a large issue for stores, especially when stores aren’t reimbursed for coupons they’ve accepted. Don’t be a part of this problem.