With the introduction of certain television shows and couponing blogs to the public, many people often ask how some of those people on the shows get such amazing totals that the average person doesn’t seem to achieve. Many people see this when they watch extreme couponing shows. If someone asks me this question, it seems a good opportunity to discuss the ideas of coupon etiquette and coupon ethics. Proper use of coupons is important to everyone: the retailer, the manufacturer and the consumer. All are affected by those who chose to not use coupons ethically.
I love to show new people how to use coupons, and I encourage everyone to use coupons correctly, according to the stated terms, and for the correct size and number of product(s) indicated. Learning how to stockpile groceries is a key to effective coupon use, as it allows those who use coupons to take advantage of sales cycles and price points. Stockpiling groceries takes time and effort; there is no shortcut. When people use coupons incorrectly to shortcut building stockpiles, they are damaging opportunities for other people to save with coupons.
Here are some pitfalls to avoid when learning how to use coupons correctly:
* Expired Coupons: Review your store’s policy. Respect the stated expiration date. Often, stores may accept an expired coupon if the customer insists, but that is a loss for the store. Enough losses for the store and they will become suspicious of those who use coupons, or alter their policy to become more strict with regard to coupon use. This will affect all those who use coupons. We cannot recommend anyone attempt to use expired coupons.
* Copying Coupons: Copying coupons is blatantly illegal and should not be done. Those who use coupons that have been copied can be prosecuted by the retailer and manufacturer, and are defrauding people. Again, this type of behavior will damage opportunities for other people to save with coupons.
* Stealing Coupons: This is primarily around taking coupons off of products you have not purchased. While there is some debate about whether or not the manufacturer intends for someone to redeem the coupon, or the fact that some people take only what they intend to redeem, there are other more extreme and less debated practices out there. A friend of mine who coupons on another site observed a woman who instructed her child to open boxes of vitamins on the shelf to remove the product coupon that was inside the sealed box. This sort of thing is extremely dangerous. Opening items, tampering with them, in an attempt to obtain a coupon to use is just like theft. It is better to put out a trade request or to purchase it from one of the coupon clipping sites, instead.
* Improper Redemption: Because coupons are encoded with bar codes from the manufacturer, some extreme couponers understand that the manufacturer and retailer don’t always check to make sure the coupon matches the product. We watch extreme couponing shows occasionally, and on one a woman used $5.00 off Crest Whitestrips coupons to buy Crest Toothpaste, because the codes were similar. This is fraud, and is illegal. The $5.00 off coupon was clearly for a much more expensive product and the customer actually made money on the transaction by practicing improper redemption. The coupon should match the exact item and size/quantity you are purchasing.
* Selling Coupons: Selling coupons is also illegal. Many people will obtain free coupon fliers and booklets and then sell coupons at online auction sites. What is permissible is for someone to use a clipping service, that clips coupons for consumers (for convenience) and then charges for the time and postage to do so. These sites clearly state that they are not selling coupons, or reselling coupons.
* Rain Check Abuse: Going into a store less than 30 minutes before they close and requesting 25 rain checks for items going off sale is an extremely dodgy practice. It makes stores limit rain checks and decide to not offer rain checks on the last day of sale.
* Shelf-Clearers: Shelf clearers are couponers who do not advance plan, order ahead and who take all the available deals on a particular item. For example, recently there was a deal that resulted in free laundry detergent drops if you had the right combination of coupons. The first store I went to in the morning had its shelves cleared before 8:00am in the morning. When I asked at customer service, I was advised a woman had come in when the store opened and took all their detergent drops in one purchase. This practice denies others and seems quite greedy and selfish. I would encourage those who use coupons to only get the deals they will need, based on family size, and to leave some on the shelf for others who use coupons, as a courtesy. Building a stockpile is important – for all couponers. Please don’t build yours by denying others the opportunity to build their stockpiles.
* It is tempting when looking for grocery store deals to compromise on coupon etiquette and coupon ethics. However, it is important to keep both in mind when you use coupons. That way, everyone can continue to benefit from coupons and it will be more available to the average consumer.
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