Back when I was a child (when dinosaurs roamed the Earth), coupons had no expiration date, groceries were individually priced and everything had to be done (including the redemption of coupons) by a cashier manually. Then they started doing everything by UPC codes and people have been trying to figure out new ways to scam the system ever since!
First things first: BarCodes are pretty standard:
The first 5 digits of the bar code are the manufacturer ID
The next 3 numbers are the “family” code
The last 2 numbers are the value code
So what is “BarCode Decoding”? Simply put, it is deciphering the bar code on a coupon to see if it will work on different (preferably less expensive) items.
Those who decode coupons will match up the first 5 numbers with other products made by the same manufacturer, thus enabling them (in many cases) to take advantage of a “glitch” in the bar code that will allow the use of a coupon on an item other than what is described on the coupon.
Why is this wrong?
Despite what many people think, the bar code is not the intent of the coupon. The bar code is merely a way to speed up the processing of the coupon. The coupon is based on the wording of the coupon; the text is the “offer”. If the wording of a coupon is “$1 off Product X”, then the coupon should only be used for “Product X” even if a glitch in the coupon will allow it to be used for “Product Y”. Similarly, if the wording of the coupon is “$.50 off 4” and a glitch in the value code will allow it to be used for only 2 items, then it is still wrong to use it on only 2 items.
In a nutshell: no matter what the bar code says, it is the text of the coupon that is the offer. Taking advantage of a glitch in the bar code to get around the text of the coupon is fraud. It's not fraud on the level of your Bernie Madoffs of the world, but it is still fraud nonetheless.
All that being said, there is some confusion as to what is and isn't bar code decoding.
BarCode Decoding is:
Using a coupon good on (for example) “Brand X Shampoo” on “Brand X Styler” just because the bar code matches up, unless the text of the coupon states that it may be used for a styler.
Using a coupon for a completely unrelated item, just because the manufacturers code on the barcode matches.
Taking advantage of a glitch in the value code section of the bar code to buy less of a product in order to get the same discount.
Using a coupon in any way other than the wording of the coupon
BarCode Decoding is not:
checking a bar code to ensure that it is a store coupon and not a manufacturers coupon (which means that, if it is a store coupon, it can be stacked with a manufacturers coupon at many stores)
matching up a bar code to ensure that a coupon will work on an item that is not pictured on the coupon, but that you are reasonably sure is included in the description (and example of this might be using a Johnson's bath & body item coupon that has pictures of baby wash on it on a Johnson's Buddies item.)
using the fact that the manufacturer ID “matches up” (as long as the wording does as well) to explain to a cashier why the coupon is valid on that item, even though it might have beeped when scanned.
I know at least a few of you who have read this far are already thinking of your arguments as to why bar code decoding isn't that bad. Let's tackle a few of those right now:
“If the company was so concerned about it, they would make sure that the coupon was coded correctly!”
Yes – and if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his butt when he jumped….the world is an imperfect place and mistakes happen, even in the big bad corporate world of creating bar codes.
If the mistake was that a $.75 coupon was coded for only $.25, you would be upset wouldn't you? When you are buying the exact same item described and pictured as on the coupon and the cashier tells you that she can't take it because it beeped (thus meaning it was coded incorrectly), you want them to accept it anyway…right? A glitch is a glitch, no matter who it favors! Just because the glitch favors you doesn't make it ok to take advantage of the mistake.
And once again, the bar code is not the offer on the coupon. The text of the coupon is the offer.
I've called the company and they said that as long as it went through, they were fine with it!
How about if you call Proctor & Gamble and ask them if they were upset a few years ago when people took the $7 WhiteStrips coupons that were coded incorrectly and walked out with free Tide, Pampers & Swiffer refills? Stores put out coupons to promote and move specific products, especially ones that they think need to be promoted and moved off of shelves. There is a reason that the WhiteStrips coupon is currently a $10 one and the Downy coupons are only $.25!
The coupons that my friend recently emailed me WILL scan at many stores, but are fraudulent coupons and they may not upset the manufacturer, but the store that doesn't get reimbursed will likely be a little miffed!
Stores need to show sufficient quantity of product sold/ordered in order to be reimbursed by a manufacturer. What if the recent high-value Huggies coupons (there were for the Gentle Care line) would also work on “regular Huggies” and you redeemed it at a store that had yet to start carrying the Gentle Care line? It may have scanned (because it was coded for ANY Huggies), but the Huggies people could look at the reports and say “how can they be taking this coupon? They don't even carry Gentle Care? We're not reimbursing them!”
Times are tough! I need to save money however I can! If taking advantage of a small glitch in the system makes me dishonest, it's such a small thing I can live with that!
Only you can decide your own “dishonesty comfort level”.
You may have noticed more and more segments on your local news about using coupons and coupon classes. While I applaud the news stations for showing people how to save money, the reporters have been distorting the facts a bit. I know a few people who teach coupon classes and know that those people teach how to read a coupon for the purposes of verification only….not as a way to “get around the system”. But the news reports are making it seem like it is fine & dandy to decode a coupon to use it other than as intended. After a few months of watching these reports, I finally had to speak up and say something.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this!