Coupons Not Accepted Here

The local grocery store has handwritten notes at all of the checkout lanes.. or rather photocopies of a handwritten note. It's purpose is to inform customers that coupons printed from the internet will NOT be accepted anymore. The reasoning? Counterfeit Coupons.

Counterfeit Coupons.

At first I was perfectly willing to accept this explanation. A few people made up some fake coupons and screwed it up for everyone else, any reasonable store would implement a similiar policy in a situation like that. But last night I had a dream that I confronted the store manager about this. Yes, I realize that it's completely bizarre to have a dream about arguing with a grocery store manager that I've never met, but it happened, and my dream self totally ripped apart the reasonableness of this policy.

If counterfeit coupons are such a problem, why are they the only retailer that I've EVER SEEN that have taken steps to refuse to accept them? Here's what never crossed my mind until that dream – there aren't any "magic coupon numbers" for "$1.50 off of whatever." The coupon has a barcode, and if that barcode isn't in the store's computer system, it won't ring up as a discount. If that barcode IS in the system, then it shouldn't matter whether I pulled the coupon from a newspaper or drew the barcode (very carefully) with crayon.

The dream-manager came up with a few arguments.. such as people printing off coupons that were no longer valid (the barcodes should be purged/expired in the system in this case, so a printed or "real" coupon won't work anyway) and that people could print off multiple copies when the coupon was supposed to be a "limit 1" (have you ever seen a cashier check the coupon for a limit? I haven't. You know why? Because the system keeps track of these things and will reject it.)

So, now I have a policy that I blindly accepted but now reject the validity of. This leads to the question "Why?" Is the checkout system so screwed up that it can't keep track of prices and discounts as well as *every other checkout system* and if so, how am I supposed to trust the prices that it comes up with for anything that I buy? Is the store manager/owner a Luddite, and just took the "Coupons from the intarwebs?! I don't know anything about that so I'm going to pretend I do and overreact" approach?

Has anyone else encountered this sort of thing?

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  1. Kelly (KH) said,

    I don't know what the manager's problem is, but I think you should confront him/her on it — I'll take pictures and you can blog about that, too.

    November 7, 2007 @ 10:42 am

  2. Jeff said,

    Hello! It actually is a very real problem and there are a small number of other retailers that won't take Internet coupons. But all the big chains, including Wal-Mart DO accept. Others periodically refuse to accept them during bouts of high counterfeiting activity. I'd love to know which one this is (I'm in the business).

    Here's why it is a perceived problem.

    You hand over your coupon for $0.25 off Kraft cheese. The store turns in that coupon for reimbursement. It will get the $0.25 back plus an 8-cent handling fee. As you said, the coupon either scans or not. But all the bar code does is tell the POS system basic information to make sure you met the purchase requirements and how much cash you are owed. The bar code contains:
    – the value of the coupon
    – the product code
    – purchase qty requirement (1 package of cheese, two packages, etc.)
    – the expiration date.

    The stores are NOT linked to some "central repository" of all issued coupons. The store has NO WAY of knowing if Kraft actually did distribute that coupon and therefore no way of knowing if it actually will get reimbursed. It already handed you back your 25-cents, so if it is a fake the store just took a hit.

    With non-Internet coupons the physical media provides some measure of assurance. It's printed on shiny paper. An Internet coupon is most likely on #20 white paper. A non-Internet coupon is in full color, with high resolution graphics. An Intenet coupon is in black & white and low resolution graphics.

    I said "perceived" above. In reality, with some simple, commonsense controls those worries go away. For example, never accept online coupons for "Free" items or an oddly high value.

    Well I could go on but no need to write a book here!

    November 8, 2007 @ 10:13 am

  3. sparx said,

    Damn.. that actually makes sense.

    I was thinking that a centralized coupon system wouldn't make sense, and when I was writing this I was going based on the assumption that the store would have accepted coupons stored in with it's pricing information. That itself seems unfeasable and pretty unmaintainable.. but not as ridiculous and insecure as coding the info into the barcode itself.

    I guess part of me just wanted to assume that a system designed around processing transactions would be less susceptible to such low-tech trickery.

    Still, the signs upset me. And it's the Sentry grocery store in Whitewater, WI.

    November 8, 2007 @ 11:41 am

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