Internet Printables (coupons) are a wonderful thing.
But not all stores share my love of them. As so often happens in life, as few unscrupulous people have made their use difficult for those of us who use them honestly. If you are just getting started with couponing, you may find that it is the Internet Printables (IPs) that give you the most headaches and you may find yourself having to educate the cashier (and sometimes even the store manager!) about them.
Why do so many stores and cashiers have a problem with IPs? The truth is, they tend to look like you have photocopied them, especially if you set your printer to print them in black & white. But what is not widely known among “non-professional couponers” is that each IP has an individual dot-scan barcode on it (this is the one directly under the expiration date). If you have 100 coupons for Chex Mix, each of those coupons will have a different number. This is done precisely to prevent people from printing one coupon and photocopying it 100 times and then walking in the store with 100 Chex Mix coupons. Sometimes it is just as simple as explaining that to the cashier.
First and foremost, practically every grocery chain with a website will have their Coupon Policy somewhere on the website and many will state their policy on IPs. Find it, familiarize yourself with it, and even print it out and keep in your couon binder. Please note that many chains DO give their store managers authority to “tweak” the corporate policy to fit the needs of the individual store (such as if they have couponers who are wiping them out of product on day 1 of a sale, the manager may impose limits on the number of like-coupons you may use per day). If you are new to couponing, you might want to double check with the store manager to see if there are any tweaks to the stated policy!
So what do you do when you know that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing and you want to avoid any problems?
If you encounter a cashier who is giving you a problem, POLITELY explain to them what you know to be their policy and how you are within the guidelines. If that doesn't work, POLITELY ask to speak to the manager. So long as you are following store policy and don't get nasty, I have always found that the problem was resolved in my favor.
One place that I have heard the most complaints about is Wal-Mart (big shock, I know!). Wal-Mart managers are NOT allowed to tweak the policy and Wal-Mart very clearly states their coupon policy here. I've actually pulled this out and gave it to a cashier at WalMart when she told me that they don't take IPs. I said “Sure you do!” and handed her a copy. Do you know that she actually thanked me and asked if she could keep my copy, since she had only “heard” what their policy was and had never seen in written in the 6 years she worked for WalMart?
Another argument that has worked in my favor is, when told by the cashier that the store doesn't accept IPs, I ask them: “If that's the case, why does your corporate website make IPs available for printing?” (as most grocery store websites do)
Sooner or later you WILL run in to a cashier and/or manager who just won't budge. So what do you do? It's up to you, but when I have a problem, I NEVER buy the item for which they are refusing the IP. I get my IP back, tell them to take it off my order. Then I go home and contact the corporate offices of the store. I've only done this twice, but both times I received a response within 24 hours from the store manager (in both instances, the manager wasn't there when I had my problem). And both times I was offered a gift card for my troubles (I turned down 1 because the incident wasn't that big a deal…I took the other because I was STILL fuming over being called a “scammer”)
The most important thing to remember is that IPs are still relatively new, and to many cashiers they look like something that you just ran off at home (especially older cashiers – they seem to give the biggest problems. I always try to get in line with a teenage cashier). But as long as you are doing nothing wrong, just keep using them.
And if you stick to shopping at the same Giant, the same Acme, the same 3 or 4 CVS's etc, they will quickly learn that you are one of the “good ones”…that they don't need to watch you like a hawk….that you are just a clever person taking advantage of the deals and not one of those people who give the honest couponers a bad name!