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Coupon Lady: The trouble with coupon clipping services

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I am often asked why my classes or columns do not contain information about coupon clipping Web sites and why I don’t tell people that they can buy coupons on eBay.

I understand why many people are tempted to purchase coupons online. If money is tight, you only have to buy the coupons you are interested in instead of several whole newspapers. You save time because coupons arrive already clipped and ready to go. It seems like a good idea, especially to new couponers.

However, couponers need to understand how the coupon system works and how coupon clipping services could prevent future coupons from being released.

Coupons are advertisements. It is an advertisement to get you, the consumer, to notice and want a product. The amount of coupons that are sent out across the country depends on how much money the company wants to spend on the printing. If the company has a limited budget, then the marketing department might decide to only spend enough money to send coupons to largely populated areas. That is why newspapers in Atlanta, Columbia and Charleston, S.C., might have different coupons than the ones found in The Augusta Chronicle.

When I first started couponing, I called both the Atlanta and the Columbia newspapers to try to get a subscription. The circulation office informed me that I could only get a mail-order subscription. Mail-order subscriptions do not contain any ads or coupon inserts. When I ruled out getting a subscription, I tried to get copies of Columbia’s paper by crossing the river every Sunday. I would take the 20-minute drive, often to discover empty boxes or papers with missing inserts. I quickly realized traveling was not worth the one or two coupons that were different from those in The Chronicle.

I also found that I could go online and often find Internet printable coupons from those companies. Between my multiple Sunday-only subscription and using coupon Web sites, I rarely miss a coupon deals in the area.

So, why didn’t I decide to use a coupon clipping service to get those missing coupons?

My biggest problem with purchasing coupons online is that you simply do not know where the coupons are coming from. One extreme couponer used 200 coupons for a free bottle of Tide that he had purchased online. One can’t help but wonder – where did the online seller find these high-value coupons?

Most fake coupons are based on legitimate coupons. On March 7, coupon expert and author Jill Cataldo blogged about the origins of the Tide coupons on her site. She explained that the booklet containing four legitimate coupons for free bottles of Tides were included with the purchase of a washing machine at a specific dealership in Chicago. The legitimate coupon books had the store’s logo, an expiration date and a hologram.

However, counterfeiters got their hands on the booklets and started creating fakes. Those fakes did not contain the hologram or an expiration date. The counterfeiters then started selling the fakes online at up to 70 percent of the value of the coupon.

P&G, the makers of Tide, knew that a certain amount of free coupons had been produced for the appliance store. When a large number of counterfeit coupons were turned in for redemption, the company had two choices: it could refuse to reimburse stores, which would make the store lose money, or it could accept the fake coupons and go over its marketing budget. Marketing would have to compensate by lowering the next advertising campaign’s coupon amount or limit the areas that receive the coupon.

When grocery stores are refused payments because of counterfeit coupons, the store’s regional or corporate office might decide to change the coupon policy, refusing to accept certain types of coupons or even limiting or eliminating doubling.

To continue to benefit from coupons, it is in our best interests not to participate in behavior that could harm the system or to teach bad behaviors to others.

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