As you learn the ropes of couponing, you will have to begin making some decisions about the gray areas of coupon usage. While each person has to answer to his or her own conscience and make a decision about what he or she will and won’t do, my opinion is that there are so many good deals available that it’s quite simple to follow all the rules and still save a lot of money. Becentsable absolutely does not advocate the misuse of coupons.
But what does it mean to misuse coupons? While there are many gray areas of coupon usage, the “gray area” I receive the most questions about is known as coupon barcode decoding.
Every coupon issued has a barcode that tells the register what family of products the coupon can be used to purchase, how many products must be purchased for the coupon to apply, the expiration date and the value of the coupon.
By learning how a cash register reads coupons, it is possible to use coupons for products other than those for which they were intended. This is known as coupon barcode decoding. The barcode may allow the coupon to be used on a different product, but the wording of the coupon communicates the intent of that coupon. To use it on another product intentionally is a form of coupon fraud.
While it is perfectly fine to ignore the picture on the coupon (as manufacturer’s often use a picture of the most expensive item) it is not ok to skip over the print language of the coupon and use the barcode to determine what you will buy. The printed text communicates the intent of the coupon. When the wording of a coupon is vague, you can use a coupon’s barcode to help determine the products to which the coupon applies, but make sure the wording also matches.
So why is coupon barcode decoding a problem? If a store is consistently redeeming coupons that they don’t have sales to corroborate, the manufacturer may start denying the reimbursement to them thus causing the store to restrict its coupon acceptance policies. If the problem is wide spread, the brand may pull the coupons from the market altogether. In other words, coupon barcode decoding causes problems for the store and the manufacturer, and, eventually, for other couponers as well.
While I think it is possible to unintentionally use a coupon on an item for which it wasn’t intended, by Jan 2010 there is technology called GS1 Databar coming out that will prevent this from happening. Products and coupons will have barcodes that break products down into quantity, size and variety rather than only family or product line.
Here is some verbiage about the new barcodes that will be standard across the country by Jan 2010:
The GS1 DataBar Coupon Format
The new DataBar Coupon format will provide manufacturers more options for purchase requirements and values and make it possible to code more complex offers. It will enable the coupon to be validated at checkout to ensure the manufacturer intended the purchase that was made. Ideally, it may reduce mis-redemption.
There are several other areas of coupon usage that are far more gray than this issue including using e-coupons and paper coupons on a single product, taking peelies off a product you didn’t buy, buying coupons online and entering a zip code other than the one where you live in order to access more printable coupons.
Best wishes as you determine what rules you will live by as you coupon. My best advice is to follow what the coupon says, to ask questions at customer service when you are unsure and to think of others as you try to increase your own grocery savings.