Retail chains alter policies amid coupon craze

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When Sandy Beacham of Augusta goes grocery shopping, she always has a coupon in hand.

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Sandy Beacham, holding her son Greyson Beacham, heads for the checkout at Kroger on Washington Road with Christian Beacham (from left), 13, Lily Beacham, 4, Hayden Fulghum, 3, and Seth Beacham, 12. Beacham said she tries not to buy things that she doesn't need just because she has a coupon.   Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Sandy Beacham, holding her son Greyson Beacham, heads for the checkout at Kroger on Washington Road with Christian Beacham (from left), 13, Lily Beacham, 4, Hayden Fulghum, 3, and Seth Beacham, 12. Beacham said she tries not to buy things that she doesn't need just because she has a coupon.

Inspired by TLC's show Extreme Couponing , the stay-at-home mother of five is on a mission to save as much money as possible. She's saved the most on toiletries and personal items at drug stores, but she doesn't consider herself an extreme couponer like people on the show.

"I try not to get caught up in buying stuff just because I have a coupon for it. On TV, you see them buying in bulk a lot of the same thing, where I'm not just going to eat a bunch of noodles and spaghetti sauce," Beacham said. "I don't see the sense of having a million of one item if I'm not going to use it. I just take it on as a fun hobby to see if I can save money."

As the economic downturn and television shows such as Extreme Couponing have made clipping coupons popular, some shoppers are taking it to the extreme, clearing grocery store and retail shelves, filling shopping carts to the brim, and holding up shopping lines as cashiers try to process their stacks of coupons.

Now, some grocery and retail stores nationwide are changing their coupon policies. Rite Aid, Bi-Lo and Publix have made changes, while guidelines at Kroger, Target and Walgreens remain the same, according to corporate media officials.

Rite Aid has changed its buy-one, get-one-free and multiple coupon policies.

"We've designed our policy so that all our customers can take advantage of the great values we offer, rather than a small group excessively taking advantage of them," said Eric Harkreader, a Rite Aid spokesman.

Kellie Ham, of Augusta, has learned it's best to go grocery shopping early to find the items she wants.

"I do remember times where something has been on sale in the ad, and I know if you don't usually go, like, on a Wednesday when the ad comes out, if you wait until Thursday or Friday, sometimes it will be gone off the shelf," Ham said during a recent trip to Kroger on Washington Road.

She uses some coupons, but she doesn't go overboard, she said.

"I've never gone to that extreme where you get a hundred bottles of dish detergent or 400 rolls of toilet paper, but I do use some coupons," Ham said.

Angela McLaurin, of Trenton, S.C., doesn't use coupons in excess, but she's been able to get items for free at CVS, such as toothpaste, razors and body wash.

"I think that it's fun, but it's saved us a ton of money. Now I can go spend $70 and have a week's worth of food. I've gotten great deals on diapers," McLaurin said. "But there's no way that I would buy the amount of the stuff (extreme couponers) buy. They got great deals, but really what did they have to feed their family for dinner? They didn't end up with any real food."

Karen Green, a coupon expert and columnist for North Augusta Today , said she doesn't teach extreme couponing in her coupon classes. Local store managers have told her their corporate offices changed the stores' policies because of extreme couponing.

"So many people now are trying to do what they see on TV, and it's causing big problems. So for (retailers), it's just easier to limit things now," Green said.

A manager at Walgreens in North Augusta told Green it only takes about two extreme couponers "to wipe them completely out" because stores don't receive enough notice to stock up on sale items. Walgreens hasn't changed its coupon policy companywide, but individual stores have implemented policies to guard against extreme couponers, she said. Green tells students to practice "ethical couponing."

"When you start doing extreme couponing, you really do become a hoarder. You just want to buy as much as you can, and it doesn't matter if anybody else can do it. So you wipe out the shelves, you don't leave anything for anybody else. It's too much excess. Instead of getting what your family needs for the next six to 12 weeks, they're getting what they need for the next 50 years," she said.

Carol Gunter, a coupon expert and a columnist for The Augusta Chronicle , said it's unrealistic for shoppers to replicate the savings on Extreme Couponing . She said retailers changed their policies for the show and participated to promote their stores.

"I think this show is making people think they can go out there and literally never pay for anything ever again, and that's just not realistic. There are very few coupons on meat and produce. Also, coupons vary by region and policies vary by region," Gunter said.

Consumers are searching for coupons in record numbers and buying more than one Sunday newspaper, a new concept to most people, she said.

Because coupons are being redeemed in unprecedented quantities, stores have changed their coupon policies to combat coupon fraud, Gunter said. At local flea markets, people are reselling items they received free with coupons, which is against the rules. A local grocery store manager told her this is a problem.

"The coupon is meant to be a discount for an individual person, not a retail situation. I honestly think that's what the stores are worried about when they're setting their limits and changing their policies. It's not meant for the person that takes four to 10 coupons in for the same item ... because that's what you intend to use for your own household," Gunter said.

Coupon theft is on the rise, another major concern for retailers. People are stealing coupon inserts from newspaper machines and decoding coupons or matching part of the UPC code to buy items the coupon was not intended for, she said.

Green said she doesn't think couponing will ever return to the way things should be.

"People always find a way around the system," she said. "But I'm optimistic that changes in policies will help more people be able to get the savings than have been able to, especially over the past few months with this show that's come out."

Coupon policy changes

Before the extreme coupon craze, many grocery stores and retailers didn't limit coupon use for buy-one, get-one-free items, stacking different types of coupons (such as store and manufacturer coupons) on the same item, the use of competitor coupons or the number of sale items on which coupons could be applied, said Karen Green, a coupon expert and columnist for North Augusta Today.

The following retailers report recent changes in their coupon policies:

RITE AID: Updated coupon policy in May with two changes, said spokesman Eric Harkreader.

- Will accept buy-one, get-one-free coupons, but "only one coupon can be used for each pair of items purchased." Also, the value of the cents-off coupon cannot exceed the selling price of the item, and buy-one, get-one-free coupons can't be used along with a buy-one, get-one-free promotion.

- Will "accept up to four identical coupons for the same of number qualifying items as long as there is sufficient stock to satisfy other customers within the store manager's discretion."

BI-LO: New policy effective June 1.

- One manufacturer and one store coupon can be redeemed per item.

- A limit of 10 coupons on like items are eligible to double. Remaining coupons on like items will be redeemed only at face value.

- Double coupon redemption applies only to manufacturer coupons, and Bi-Lo store coupons, free manufacturer or store coupons and electronic coupons will not be doubled.

- The coupon value, including the doubled amount, must not exceed the price of the item and no cash back will be given."

- Bi-Lo "reserves the right to accept, decline or limit the use of coupons."

PUBLIX: Updated coupon policy in May, said spokeswoman Brenda Reid.

- Has designated the retailers from which it will accept competitor coupons and has posted a list of these stores, primarily grocery stores or superstores, in Publix locations.

- Any coupons above $5 in value must have manager approval.

- Will accept a manufacturer's coupon and either a Publix or a competitor coupon on the same item, but it won't allow the use of all three.

- In response to coupons that exceed the value of the product, Publix will only discount up to the total value of the item. Publix will not give cash back, Reid said.

-- LaTina Emerson, staff writer

Comments (2) Add comment
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floridasun
310
Points
floridasun 07/23/11 - 09:05 pm
0
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in my humble opinion some of

in my humble opinion some of these extreme couponers are really taking advantage of the situation. I don't see why someone needs 100 bottles of salad dressing or whatever just cause you can.
Sort of like going to the all you can eat buffet

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 07/24/11 - 09:00 am
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I've seen and spoken to
Unpublished

I've seen and spoken to people at flea markets that did the thing they mentioned in the article. They would hit every store between where they live and where they sell at the flea markets. They bought things that sell and use every coupon they can find- especially buy one get one free items. Then set up shop at a flea market and sell the individual items at a slight discount from what the retail price should be.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 07/24/11 - 02:42 pm
0
0
these coupon freaks get on my

these coupon freaks get on my last nerve when I am trying to shop. I also don't like how they are gaming the system and basically wiping everything out for other customers. I use coupons for things I would normally buy and I only buy what I need, not wipe out the aisle. I mean, really, I don't need 200 jars of Miracle Whip or 150 bottles of mouth wash. The way I see it, these coupon freaks are costing the store money. I've seen where a store had to dedicate 4 employees to service these coupon freaks. What about the other paying customers?

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