Super-Couponing Tips: High-value coupons don’t always scan at the register

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“Hi Jill,

In the last three months or so I have had difficulties with using coupons on three separate occasions and all involved the same brand and retailer. Is my story an odd coincidence or something else?

A nasal spray has had $10-off coupons in the Sunday inserts about once a month. In each case, I have tried to redeem at a popular superstore retailer.

The first time, I presented my coupon along with several others. I saw the checker hold all of them to the scanner but didn’t notice that I hadn’t gotten credit for it until I got home. I guess the store made an extra $10 on that one.

The second, I watched carefully and noticed that the screen didn’t acknowledge my nasal spray coupon. The checker tried a few times, examined my coupon and matched it to the product. She called in a supervisor who re-examined everything and called in the manager. Meanwhile, the line behind me was growing, so the manager opened the cash drawer and gave me a $10 bill.

The third time, I again watched carefully and again the scanner did not accept the bar code on my coupon. The checker had caught it and tried five to six times using both scanners (handheld and fixed.) Again, she called a supervisor who tried several more times to get it to read. She also carefully examined the coupon and product to be sure they were the same.

Obviously, for a 50-cent coupon, I’m not going to persist, but this was a $10 one. Have you ever heard of something like this?”

John M.

As brands issue coupons with higher values, the potential for coupon fraud unfortunately increases, too. Coupon misredemption is an enormous problem for stores. Misredemption occurs when a store accepts a coupon for something a shopper did not buy. If a store is audited when it submits coupons for items that they cannot show were purchased at their store, the manufacturer can deny payment for that coupon to the store.

To use your example, if this happens with a 50-cent coupon, it’s not as large a deal to the store as it is if the store mistakenly accepts a $10 coupon — or worse, many $10 coupons. Conversely, you may also start to understand how fraudsters might find it attractive to place as many $10 coupons in the stack of other coupons they’re handing the cashier, then hope that the cashier pushes them through if the register rejects them. (The register should automatically reject any coupon that it cannot associate with a qualifying purchase, but less scrupulous shoppers may try to convince the cashier to accept them anyway, or hope that the cashier is pressed for time and simply overrides them.)

How do stores combat this? More and more retailers are moving to systems that automatically beep, flag or reject coupons over a certain dollar amount. At some stores, the cashier can manually override the coupon once he or she has verified that the shopper has actually purchased the item.

While I have not purchased the product in question at this particular retailer, I do receive a fair amount of email from readers that have experienced difficulties with redeeming high-value coupons there. I looked up the store in question, and their coupon policy states: “The system will prompt for supervisor verification for a coupon of $5 and over.” This is likely the cause of the issue at your store — the store’s registers are set up to automatically reject anything with a value over $5. The cashier is then supposed to manually verify that you purchased the correct item to approve your coupon. (Whether or not this specific policy point has been effectively communicated to the cashiers is another issue.)

If you continue to have issues using high-value coupons at this store, you may wish to try using your coupons at a different retailer. A different store may have a higher limit (or no limit at all) on the per-coupon dollar value that will scan automatically without intervention.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Email your questions to [email protected].

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