Stores Confront Extreme Couponers’ Tactics With Policy Changes

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Extreme couponing is getting a little too extreme for some stores.

For extreme couponers who pay only a few bucks for an entire shopping cart’s worth of goods, or even earn money on their shopping trips by reimbursing coupons with a higher value than the item’s price, couponing practically functions as a part-time job. Stores are ready to give them the pink slip. 

Supermarkets popular with extreme couponers have a delicate balance to maintain: They don’t want to alienate their coupon-loving customers, but they also don’t want to disappoint non-extreme shoppers who can’t buy sale items because some shopper with a file folder and dreams of TLC stardom just emptied the entire shelf of product. To that end, some grocery retailers are adding to or clarifying their existing coupon policies.

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The Detroit News profiles one extreme couponer who admitted her quest to buy 34 containers of chocolate milk at once was “a moneymaker,” since she intended to get 11 cents back each by combining a coupon with her local Walmart’s sale price. While the store manager did allow the shopper to score her $3.74 cash back, the process was, according to her, deliberately annoying. Each container of milk had to be rung up as an individual purchase, and the cash back was doled out 11 cents at a time, along with 34 separate receipts.

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Walmart wouldn’t comment on this practice when asked by the newspaper, but increasing the hassle factor for extreme couponers is only one of the ways retailers are trying to limit their losses and keep shelves stocked in the face of this fanatical frugality.

Online forums where couponers swap tips and gripes lit up last spring with the news that supermarket chain Kroger was barring “stacking,” that is, combining paper and online manufacturer’s coupons on the same item. Apparently, that wasn’t enough of a deterrent, because the company tweaked its policy again several months later to limit the number of online manufacturer’s coupons a shopper could use in a single day.

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“We want all customers to be able to get the products they want when they are shopping in our stores,” a Kroger spokeswoman explained to the Detroit News.

It’s not only supermarkets starting to take a stand against hardcore couponers; pharmacy chain Rite-Aid announced that it’s test-marketing a coupon policy change on its Facebook page a few weeks ago. Previously, customers who earned loyalty rewards good for a future shopping trip could turn right around and use them immediately; now, they’ll have to wait until the following day.

Extreme couponers might complain, but they can expect stores to continue shifting their coupon policies in the future. On the other hand, cashiers are bound to be thrilled at the prospect of not having to scan dozens of coupons per order, and shoppers who just want to buy one or two sale items will be happy to find the items actually in stock.

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