By Jill Cataldo
I’d like to believe that the vast majority of shoppers are ethical and that they follow the rules and terms stated plainly on coupons. Stipulations such as “Coupon may not be reproduced,” “Valid only on the brand and size indicated” and “Limit one per customer” are quite clear. Yet I receive a fair amount of email from readers who attempt to justify why they should be able to bend the rules. Aren’t the deals we get using coupons in a legitimate fashion good enough?
Dear Jill: I know that it is a definite No to copy manufacturer coupons, but what about competitors’ store coupons? Are they OK to copy? The person I learned how to coupon from said that since competitors’ coupons are not manufacturer coupons that it is OK to copy them. For example, if I print from a competitor’s site, it usually allows me to print only two coupons. But she said the limit applies only when it comes to using them at that particular store. If you use them at a store that accepts competitors’ coupons, then it’s OK to make copies. Somehow, ethically, I don’t think that is so. Please advise. – Terri S
Dear Terri: When a store accepts a competitor’s coupon, they agree to honor the discount that you would have received at the other store. Imagine that a local supermarket offers a coupon for a free loaf of bread. While I certainly could use that coupon at the store that issued the coupon, I have another option, too. The coupon policy for a competing grocery store in my area states that it will accept the other store’s coupon and honor the same price – in this case, I could get the same loaf of bread free at the competing store. This is a nice perk, because the store that accepts competitor coupons is much closer to me, so I can save gas and enjoy the same deal.
The terms of nearly all coupons state that the coupon may not be duplicated. This is true both for manufacturer coupons and store coupons. The reader was correct to note that what her coupon instructor was teaching didn’t seem right. It isn’t! Let’s go back to my example of the coupon for a free loaf of bread from one supermarket. Even though the other grocery store’s policy is to accept the competitor’s coupon, what would happen if I made 10, 20, 30 photocopies of that free bread coupon? I could take home a nearly endless supply of free bread, and that store would eat the loss of all of those coupons.
When a store is willing to accept a competitor’s coupon, they rely on those coupons being limited in some way. A finite number of competitor coupons are available – whether it’s a coupon you print from the store’s website or one that you find in the store’s flyer. When you introduce photocopying into the equation, you’re forcing the store to take a larger loss than they’ve already agreed to accept. And if that privilege is abused, it will likely result in tighter restrictions in the future.
I’m now in my fifth year of teaching coupon workshops, both live and on video via SuperCouponing.com. The ethics of what we do as coupon shoppers has always been of the utmost importance to me, especially when teaching others. Unfortunately, not everyone teaching couponing takes an ethical angle – from the email I receive, it seems that some “instructors” aim to beat and cheat the system any way possible. Couponing is a privilege, not a right. If people continue to push the limits of what’s allowed, we will also continue to see both retailers and manufacturers tighten limits and restrictions on coupons.
Next week, I’ll share a note from another reader whose “coupon teacher” taught her that it was OK to violate specific terms on a coupon, and an email from a reader who tried to beat the system… and lost.
Email couponing victories and questions to email@example.com.