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  • The ethics of stacking coupons

    I want to thank Andrea of Mommy Snacks for a thought-provoking email she sent after I posted about saving money with e-coupons last week. It’s given me quite a bit of food for thought, and I’d like to know what you think. Andrea said that she had spoken with a customer service representative of Shortcuts, Cellfire and P&G, who said that the companies do not “condone” stacking coupons but can’t prevent it.

    “Stacking” means using more than one coupon on an item. For example, when I used a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon on the DiGiorno pizza at Pavilions last week, I “stacked” the coupons. It’s always been my understanding that such stacking is perfectly legitimate.

    I think the stacking that the CSR was concerned about is the type that happened with the Cascade rinse agent in the deal I posted about last week, where I used a free item coupon and also got the benefit of a P&G eSaver e-coupon. I only bought the item because of the coupon, so the manufacturer achieved their goal of getting me to buy their product. I can understand the manufacturer’s perspective here, that they don’t really want people saving too much money because it cuts into their profits. But they can’t have it both ways, especially because, as far as I know, the only way to “deactivate” an e-coupon is to let it expire.

    As a consumer, I think it’s too much to ask me to always be aware of what e-coupons are available, and to be sure to only use either a paper coupon or an e-coupon. As I said, I always load e-coupons when I get the chance, because otherwise I’ll forget about them (and I do, constantly). In this case, having loaded the 50-cents off Cascade e-coupon a couple of weeks ago, the manufacturer’s unofficial rule would have precluded me from using the much higher value paper coupon. From my consumer’s perspective, that seems grossly unfair. If they don’t want me to use the e-coupons, then they shouldn’t make them available.

    I’m also skeptical of the manufacturers’ claim that they can’t program their computers to prevent stacking. To some degree, it might be true. But I’ve noticed that more and more, the registers seem to know which product a paper coupon applies to. Which would indicate that the computers can be programmed to not apply an e-coupon when a paper coupon has “attached” to an item. I realize that it doesn’t work with every item, but it seems to me that it’s something that will be “fixed” by the manufacturers and retailers within the next couple of years.

    In the meantime, I’m not planning to change the way I shop, unless I stop using e-coupons altogether (which is certainly an option – I forget about them all the time anyway).

    What do you think, and how do e-coupons factor into your shopping?

    P.S. Head over to Mommy Snacks to enter a $100 back-to-school Visa gift card giveaway!


    1. Well, you say to have the computer not use an e-coupon when a paper q is applied to that item, but the e-coupons come first. I know what you mean, but the e-coupon would always come first, I bet, and so you wouldn't be able to use your paper q, even if it is more and you want to 🙁

    2. I like to think I'm not cheating the system, but I've been stacking the e-coupons with paper and heck–I've even written about how to do it in several venues now. I truly don't understand how/why the companies can't control the computer/barcode/register issues. I think that's ridiculous. If you only want us to use one coupon, why print it in the newspaper at the same time it's offered on-line? Why does the computer let both happen? It could beep on the paper coupon if necessary, just as it does for other forms of conflict.

      If the point is to buy the product, they got me to do that. Does it really matter that I only paid .49 for my box of Chex Mix bars instead of the .89 I would have paid? Even with the current trend of couponing, there are still far fewer people redeeming them than not.

    3. KristinBrianne says:

      While I don't have the luxury/option to use e-coupons, this article is certainly very thought provoking. It seems to me that the companies are expecting consumers to, at least partially, do their jobs for them and monitor all of the coupons available to make sure the company isn't losing profits. While I would never condone cheating a company, I hardly feel this is wrong because they could prevent it if they wanted to do so. Technology makes almost anything possible, and I find it hard to fathom that a company can't find a computer programmer capable of preventing both of the coupons from being used. They are also asking you to choose between the e-coupon and the paper coupon, and the e-coupons are never as good. If this is the route they want a consumer to choose they are going to run the risk of losing a lot of business.

    4. Anonymous says:

      Personally, I don't have a lot of sympathy for the companies here. They chose to print paper Qs as well as issue e-Qs. It's up to me to maximize my savings, as far as I'm concerned.

      The easy fix here is to run the e-campaign and the print campaign consecutively rather than concurrently. If they want to fix it, they can. In the meantime, I'm doing all I can to maximize the savings.

    5. whimsygirl says:

      I try to be a very ethical couponer. Even at a purely pragmatic level it serves us – if we abuse the system, they will start taking it away because it will not advantageous to them. HOWEVER – in this circumstance, I honestly feel like they are allowing it – without saying it. Sort of giving us pardon instead of permission. The only way I can make sure nothing stacks is to not use e-coupons, which defeats their purpose. I think they would rather know we stacked on occasion instead of not using them at all.

    6. I have used e-coupons with paper coupons. Another blogger recently made a comment about it being unethical. I am now looking into it but I am finding very little information on the shortcuts and new unilever e-coupons. I am an ethical couponer and never thought of using both as illegal. Like many of you have already pointed out, you can not delete an e-coupon. Therefore it limits your ability to choose if you have a higher value paper coupon. Not to mention the fact that I often forget which e-coupons are loaded to my card! The other issue is that many times the e-coupons do not work. I don't want the product if I can't make sure a coupon is used on it.

    7. Anonymous says:

      I'm so disgusted w/e-coupons right now. They cannot be relied upon to deduct. They apply correctly about as frequently as a slot machine pays-off. I'm going to try a new philosophy and load them when I receive an email that new ones are available, then promptly forget about them.