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TLC's 'Extreme Couponing' no stranger to controversy

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The Learning Channel (TLC) is no stranger to controversy when it comes to its show Extreme Couponing. The first episode of Season 2 premiered Sept. 28, and new episodes have sent social media into overdrive, with one store receiving so much criticism on its Facebook page that it actually posted an apology for being on the show. Here’s a breakdown of the one of the episodes and the reply by the store, Lowes Foods.

In the episode that aired Oct. 5, we are introduced to Michelle, from Concord, N.C. She is a self-avowed shelf clearer, a practice frowned on by most couponers and in the rules issued by the Coupon Infor­mation Corp. She introduces herself and says, “Yes, I am a shelf clearer. You should’ve beat me to the store. Sorry.” Then she laughs.

During one scene, we see her dump a full box of protein bars into her cart. A young man walks up and asks, “Hey, is that the last one?” Michelle replies, “Yes it was, sorry. Early bird gets the worm.” The guy looks shocked and says, “Are you serious?”

Michelle says “People that have a problem with self clearers because by the time they get to the store to clear the shelves themselves, I’ve already done it for them. You should have beat me to the store.”

At her home, we are told that she spends up to 30 hours a week clipping coupons, organizing them and hunting for deals. She says that if she clears out a store but has coupons left, she will drive to the next closest store and clear it out, too.

The store shown is Lowes Foods. Michelle spends five hours shopping and begins to check out. She has a small problem. The Lowes Foods coupon policy states that the store will only double the value of 20 coupons per transaction and that she can only redeem four coupons for four of the same item. In order to get around the limitations, she ends up breaking her purchases into 40 separate transactions. Her checkout takes more than two hours.

According to the show, Michelle ends up purchasing $1,156.43 in items but only pays $34.66 out of pocket and claims that is a 97 percent savings.

That math sounded a little off to me, and I did some research. Concord, N.C., has a sales tax of 7.75 percent on food. For items worth $1,156.43, even if Michelle got everything free, she still would have had to pay $89.62 in sales tax, because the Lowes Foods Web site states that “all sales taxes are paid by the customer at the full retail value of the item.”

Apparently, I’m not the only one who noticed something was off.

Immediately after the show aired, Lowes Foods’ Facebook page was flooded by people upset that Lowes had allowed Michelle to break so many store policies.

This is Lowes’ reply: “Thank you for taking the time to post. We appreciate your candid feedback. While we cannot undo our participation in the taping of Extreme Couponing, what we can do is share with you our reason for doing so and some truths that will not be aired with the show. Lowes Foods agreed to allow the taping in our store in hope to show viewers that we are a coupon friendly grocer with outstanding products and customer service.

“Some of what appears in the clip you saw was staged by the production company. In fact, the young man who approaches the empty shelf in dismay is actually a crew member. What is not conveyed well is time spent by the customer to clip and sort her coupons, not to mention the 8-10 hours in the store shopping and at the register. Another unfortunate aspect of the taping is Lowes Foods did not have access to the taping in the woman’s home.

“Lowes Foods was recently asked to make our stores available for a new show from the production company that films Ex­treme Couponing. We have declined and have no intention of participating in future tapings.

“We do not share this to deflect blame. We share it simply to let you know that things aren’t as they always appear. We definitely made a poor decision by participating in the show. What is most disturbing to us is we disappointed you, our valued customer. We sincerely hope you can look beyond our mistake.”

From the looks of things, it seems Extreme Couponing will continue to be a fertile topic of discussion. Until next time, happy shopping!

A free coupon class with Carol Gunter will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20 at the Augusta Chronicle News Building, 725 Broad St. Seating is limited. To register, log on to smartshopper1020.eventbrite.com.


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