Coupons offer free products, not free money
If you've ever used a free or "buy one, get one free" coupon, you've probably noticed a box at the top of the coupon. That box is where the cashier enters the selling price of your free item. Here's why: The manufacturer that offers the coupon reimburses the store for the coupon's value. Because the manufacturer has no way of knowing the price of the item when it is sold, it's up to the store to enter this information on the coupon.
For example, if I have a coupon for a free bottle of shampoo and the shampoo is on sale for $2.99, the cashier writes $2.99 on the coupon. I take home my free bottle of shampoo, and the manufacturer reimburses the store $2.99.
But what if my free shampoo coupon carries a statement that it has a value of up to $4.99? This is where some of my readers get confused.
You know how BOGO coupons state, "For a value up to $4.99," or some other maximum value? I want to know why the store doesn't give me that extra money, or write in the maximum value and keep the money for itself? Every time I get a coupon like that and I buy something that costs less, I tell the store to write in the highest amount shown on the coupon and give me the difference. So far, nobody will do it. If the manufacturer will pay that much, why can't I get the overage? Why can't the store? - Mabry R.
With a free or BOGO coupon, the manufacturer's intent is to compensate the store for the selling price of the item up to a specified amount - no more, no less. If I buy a $2.99 bottle of shampoo, the cashier should write the actual selling price on the coupon: $2.99. If the shampoo is no longer on sale and it is priced at $4.59, the cashier should write $4.59 on the coupon.
However, just because the coupon's value exceeds the product's selling price, it does not mean that you or the store is entitled to the overage. The manufacturer will reimburse the store for the price the product sold for, but that's it. You should enjoy your free item and not worry about making money off of it.
The last time I went to the store, I had a BOGO coupon for bottles of cranberry juice. The coupon was good for up to $5.99, and the juice was on sale for $3.69. When I gave it to the cashier, she scanned it and took off $3.69. But then she wrote $5.99 on the coupon and put it in the drawer. That didn't seem right. The store is ripping off the manufacturer by trying to make more money on the free coupons here, right? - Lisa G.
Indeed, the store should enter the actual selling price on the coupon, not the maximum value. Entering the maximum price and selling the item for a lower price is unethical. If the manufacturer audits the store, it will need proof that the product sold for the higher price. If the store cannot provide proof, the manufacturer does not have to reimburse it for that coupon.
Some new types of registers can automatically apply the correct sale price of an item when they scan a free or BOGO coupon, which is an improvement from the old way of manually entering the selling price. This neatly accounts for the gap between the item's price and the coupon's value.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.