Grocers updating coupon policies

Extreme couponing has gone too far.

Reports of people stealing coupon inserts from newspapers across the country — including the recent arrest of a woman in Athens, Tenn. — are becoming more common.

But even rule-abiding couponers have found themselves in tight spots. Last month, a Hampton woman says she was stopped by a Kroger manager from using coupons because she was a “habitual coupon user.”

Kroger’s corporate coupon policy states it has the right to limit quantities— coupons or not — but it’s up to each store to interpret the rule. (According to several published reports, Kroger is investigating, but won’t comment about the incident in which the mother of 10 wanted to purchase 20 bottles of body wash in addition to other groceries.)

To cope with couponing’s popularity, many grocery chains have updated or clarified their policies within the last year. Publix, which updated its rules in May, is viewed by many as having one of the industry’s most liberal coupon policies, and it includes the same quantity stipulation as Kroger.

“We are working hard to keep the products that our customers want in stock,” says Brenda Reid, an Atlanta spokeswoman for Publix, addressing an industry concern that some couponers clear store shelves of popular products.

“We reserve the right to limit quantities sold to a customer so that we can better serve the majority of our customers,” Reid says. “Accounting for items in inventory can be difficult when a coupon has been circulated.”

Target spokeswoman Erica Winkels says enhancements made to its policy weren’t because of overzealous shoppers — but rather to provide a more thorough understanding of the rules.

“The vast majority of Target guests use coupons the way they’re intended,” Winkels says. “There really just wasn’t a lot of information posted before. There wasn’t a lot of detail on BOGO [buy one, get one free] or Internet coupons.”

Jenny Martin, with the couponing website SouthernSavers.com, advocates stores not only clarifying their policies but also consistently enforcing them.

“The real problem we continue to see is we have store managers that understand policies, but not cashiers,” Martin says. “In general, the stores could have a lot more training from the top down.”

She says clarifying policies has allowed stores to better enforce existing rules. But customers should do their part, too, Martin says. Understanding a store’s policy can help a shopper be considerate of customers and store employees.

For example, some stores encourage customers who need a large supply of a product to call earlier in the week so the store can order extra. That leaves merchandise on the shelf for others.

“[Store personnel] do sort of flag certain customers,” Martin says. “They know who the problem-causers are. The stores can quickly tell who’s a good customer and which customers don’t care at all about the people around them.”

Know thy policies

It’ll save you embarrassment and frustration at the checkout line. Some companies give store managers discretion in enforcing policies, found on each chain’s website. Highlights:

Kroger

Doubling: Yes, if coupon is for 50 cents or less.

Competitors’ coupons: no

Internet printable coupons: Yes, for specific amount. Will not double; limit of 150 per transaction.

Also accepts: mobile coupons

Other rules: One coupon per item. Won’t combine manufacturer and store coupons for same item; reserves right to limit quantities.

Publix

Doubling: Yes, for 50 cents or less.

Competitors’ coupons: Yes; competitors vary by store location.

Internet printable coupons: yes

Other rules: Accepts one manufacturer coupon and either a store or competitor coupon for same item. Dollars-off-total-order coupons limited to one store and one competitor coupon per order. Won’t accept percent-off coupons; reserves right to limit quantities.

Target

Doubling: no

Competitors’ coupons: no

Internet printable coupons: Yes, but not for free items where purchase isn’t required.

Also accepts: mobile coupons

Other rules: Accepts one manufacturer coupon and one store coupon for same item. Coupon amount may be reduced if it exceeds item’s value after other discounts or coupons are applied.

Walmart

Doubling: no

Competitors’ coupons: Yes, for specific amount.

Internet printable coupons: Yes, but not for free items where purchase isn’t required. Buy-one, get-one free coupons must have specific amount.

Also accepts: Specifies soft drink container cap coupons OK.

Other rules: One coupon per item; no limit on number of coupons per transaction. Won’t accept coupons for amount- or percent-off-total-order.

Which store’s policy suits your shopping needs the best?

– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter

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21 comments Add your comment

Coupon Supporter

September 6th, 2011
7:19 am

My wife coupons every week using SouthernSavers and it really helps cut down on the grocery bill and add a lot of variety to what we eat. She knows the policies of the stores and also won’t clear a shelf just because something is a great price. We buy what we NEED, no need to waste something that others could have! I would say her favorite store is Publix because the cashiers typically understand the store’s policy the best, and they are always so easy to deal with! I always thought Publix was the most expensive one to shop at… she and SouthernSavers proved me wrong :) Good luck to anyone who puts the time in to coupon and I hope that a few crazy couponers don’t ruin a good thing!

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GoldenLocks

September 6th, 2011
11:31 am

I have used coupons for 20+ years, the way they were intended. Exp. by purchasing the exact product and size (following the terms of the coupon).
I have not been using coupons as much in the past year or so because the stores I shop at are often out of the ‘best’ deals. I will only need to purchase 1 or 2 of the ‘best’ deals but the shelves are bare.
There are some ‘extreme couponers’ in my area. I’ve witnessed where they come in with their binders and clean out the best deals. The stores usually rotate the sales every 6 weeks, so no need to stock up several months worth of items.

Regarding the Hampton woman and Kroger, kuddos to Kroger! I hope all stores get tougher with their coupon policies. If she needed large quantities, she should make several trips to different stores or order ahead. The store should not bend the rules for her just because she has a large household.
I’m sure there is more to the Hampton woman story than what was reported.

TuckerGirl

September 6th, 2011
7:25 pm

I can totally understand why the stores are getting more strict in their coupon policies. Unfortunately, that stupid TV show on TLC has ruined things for ethical couponers who follow the rules. These overzealous shoppers actually believe what they see on that show. Fact is, much of it is staged. It’s incredibly unrealistic.

As for the Hampton shopper, if you buy 20 bottles of body wash, that’s going to clear a shelf. This denies others the chance to get the deal. I agree with GoldenLocks. If she needs that many, why can’t she go to two stores? Or she can call her store ahead of time to request that amount so they can order it. I agree that there is more to this situation than we know. I don’t blame Kroger for what they did.

double down

September 6th, 2011
8:49 pm

I always get stuck at publix behind some coupon queen with 30-40 coupons, some with complicated discounts, which slows down the line—they should have a special lane for these coupon crazies so they quit wasting my time.

Also Ashley

September 6th, 2011
9:11 pm

My local paper runs a section where people are encouraged to send pictures of their couponed purchases. It’s greed and gluttony, pure and simple. I like saving money too, but come on! Reminds me of the Bible scene when the manna rotted because the people took more than they needed…

Chell

September 6th, 2011
9:34 pm

I disagee with Ms. Martin statement. I am a cashier and I understand my company’s coupon policy completely. My problem is, do the customers understand the policy. You cannot get .50 off a double pack of toothpaste when the couple clearly states single. Also, why use a coupon when you are going to return the merchandise back to the store to get you money back plus more. I am glad all of the stores are changing their coupons policy becasue some customers are getting carried away with it.

45 and some change

September 6th, 2011
9:46 pm

“I always thought Publix was the most expensive one to shop at… she and SouthernSavers proved me wrong”

They are the most expensive to shop at … IF you are not a couponer! That is the point!

One BAD Apple

September 6th, 2011
9:49 pm

The customer is not always right, in fact many are using every tactic in the book (including playing stupid) to rip off stores. Problem is these extreme people rip off the regular shoppers in the long run too!

There are ALOT of dishonest consumers out there!

Frugalady

September 6th, 2011
11:06 pm

Do not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs…

Hall Abraham

September 6th, 2011
11:57 pm

To everyone who has a negative comment about coupons….boo hoo. There is a misconception that consumers that use multiple coupons are somehow hoarding. Well, use multiple coupons and share my purchases wiih friends and family. “They say” save money and economize…well isnt that the purpose of using a coupon? Kroger, Publix, or whatever store need to establish a solid, clear policy using coupons. It should not be the discretion of store managers. As far as the lady from Hampton with the 10 kids, its none of anyone business on whom she buys for or why she buys them. That manager was out of line. I have worked retail for a number of years and have never heard of such a thing. I’ve never heard of a store manager telling a customer that he or she is buying TOO MANY cases of CIGARETTES or purchasing TOO MANY cases of beer. Have you?

JustReally..........

September 7th, 2011
1:15 am

@Hal: It is not our problem the Hampton woman has 10 children.
Hello, we do NOT care who she buys stuff for or why she purchases it. We DO NOT care.
We DO CARE when another shopper clears the shelf *far exceding* the number of quantities limited (with coupons or without).

The Hampton lady was trying to get 20 bottles of body wash. Seriously, who needs 20 bottles at one time.
Stores have every right to enforce their policy of quantities limited on discounted merchandise.

I would bet the Kroger has had trouble with this woman before.

NoAssumptions

September 7th, 2011
7:11 am

@JustReally: It is partially correct to point out that the woman’s reason for purchase should not determine the purchase limit, but the full measure of Hal’s point appears to have been missed or misunderstood, in that the use of coupons should not determine the purchase limit either. The purchase was denied not because the woman wanted to buy 20 bottles, but rather, the limit was imposed only as a bias against her coupon use, as there was no limit on full price purchases. There is a stigma with many service personnel against couponers. Even in your reply, JustReally, you espoused a lack of caring about her reasons for purchase, but then made an illogical contradiction when you asked “Seriously, who needs 20 bottles at one time”.

JustReally’s obvious preconception of “normal” household stock is a common and prevelant problem behind the bias against couponers, IMO. Almost no one freaks out over someone going to some big box warehouse and buying huge containers; why, then, can’t they comprehend that it’s smarter and more frugal to buy approximately the SAME quanity in multiple smaller containers, PLUS you can use a coupon on each one, saving heaps of money.

I had a cashier almost throw a fit when I bought a 8 pump bottles of hand soap, which was LESS fluid ounces than one big bottle from Sam’s that we used to buy, for less than 25% of the price! So not only did I save money, but I had a pump soap dispenser for each of my three bathrooms plus the kitchen for about 2 months. No more will I shell out for overpriced big bottles that are hard to lift and make a mess when you try to refill the dispensers. And no more will I pay warehouse membership fee for the “priviledge” to shop there!

And if there is a natural disaster or financial crisis (worse than the current one!), it will be the couponers who will be the most comfortable, clean smelling, and well fed.

But don’t worry. Couponers are usually very generous and forgiving. We’ll share. ;)

JustReally.......

September 7th, 2011
8:48 am

The stores put “limit 1 or limit 4″ so that EVERYONE has a chance to purchase the discounted item. It is the only fair thing for the store to do. I doubt 20 bottles were within the ‘quantities limited’.

Regarding this: “Couponers are usually very generous and forgiving. We’ll share”. I have found it is NOT true….at least the stores I frequent.

Tightwad

September 7th, 2011
11:30 am

FYI – Kroger just announced beginning 9/14/11 they will no longer double coupons. :(

NoAssumptions

September 7th, 2011
12:38 pm

@JustReally, Maybe you need to find new stores, LOL. In my experience, couponers not only share coupons, tips, and deals, but many of us also donate portions of our stock to each other, extended family members, friends, the homeless, women’s shelters, churches, and the like. Not to say there aren’t a few bad apples, but that’s more the exception than the rule, since most of us have been couponing for more than 10 to more than 20 years. I’ve personally couponed on and off for nearly 25 years, and I can tell you that this recent fad of rude and demanding TLC-extreme-wannabe n00bs is not representative of the whole, and, yes, they are ruining it for themselves and everyone else. The reason they are more prominent is that most of us who coupon correctly and honestly have been flying under the radar for years, taking care of our family through frugality and stocking up when items are on sale rather than buying full price when they are not.

JustReally.......

September 7th, 2011
2:33 pm

@NoAssumptions….they may share tips but they sure clear the shelves….which is VERY rude.
I know lots of others that have this same problem.

How many different stores am I suppose to go to to find the item? I’ve tried 3 with no luck.

Nic

September 7th, 2011
4:26 pm

I sit and read and smh. A lot of the bitter and disgruntled naysayers are mad because they were not able to get it as fast as the couponers. I just started couponing and I’ve run into all the frenzy of the coupon policies changing. I think we as couponers need to continue to use our coupons, alert manufacturers who are paying these stores money to accept their coupons on top of the fact that their being reimbursed on the cents off, stop buying grocery at the stores who deny your usage of couponing. I had a run in at a Krogers where they didnt honor their own rain check or the instructions on the coupon. Then they wonder why Wal-Mart gets all the money. I gladly tk my competitor paper to Wal-Mart where they match they match the price, put no limit on the amount, and I’ve saved. Trust and believe the execs at Wal-Mart are watching and will be soon implementing doubling of coupons up to .75 to beat out the competitors. So HAPPY couponing!!! Forget all the naysayers. Beat the stores at their own games. Visit once a day for the week it’s on sale fall within the limit, what can they say. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!! They will soon be begging for couponers to return. Mark my words. I’m not bitter at the naysayers. I’m not a hoarder. I give with what I receive and I’m richly BLESSED!!! If you want to learn the game, I will show you as I was shown. I overheard a C’S Mgr disgruntled as to why I needed what I was buying, yet she asked a fellow couponer for Dawn coupons. Don’t HATE…ask & receive.

Scooby Snacks

September 7th, 2011
10:02 pm

Publix, where shopping is a pleasure.

[...] too off the mark with my assumption. As couponing has become something of a competitive sport, grocers are updating their coupon policies so that limits are clear. The incidents of people stealing the couponing inserts out of Sunday [...]

Lauren Davidson

September 8th, 2011
12:47 pm

@Tightwad: According to a Kroger representative, not in Atlanta. They will still double coupons here.