I am really enjoying the "Couponing Ethics" discussions that we have been having. This question came to me via email from Caroline and I loved it. If you have any topics to contribute, please don't hesitate to email me!
I love your blog! I've enjoyed reading the posts about couponing ethics and I'm not sure if you've covered this before, but what about the issue of when you need to return something you've bought with a coupon? The particular coupons aren't itemized on the receipt and there's no way to tell which coupon was used on which product. I was just thinking about this because I need to return something I bought and used a coupon for. Will the cashier be able to adjust the price if I tell her/him I had a $1 off coupon? What if you return something and don't remember (a) if you used a coupon for that item, or (b) how much the coupon was for? I'd be curious to see what you and your readers say...
Ok - here's my feelings
As I have said in the past, I look at coupons as tiny little gift certificates...no different than as if I went directly to the manufacturer and asked them for money to use for my purchase. As long as a coupon is "scanned in to the sytem" the store is going to be paid the full amount of the coupon.
The problem arises when too many people look at coupon as a "discount" and not a form of payment. It's not a discount. The store will be getting that money from the manufacturer assuming that they comply with all the rules printed on the coupon (and I can't imagine that many stores that accept coupons don't comply).
So what happens when you return the item?
Unless the store is able to void the sale (which most stores can't do unless you return it within a few minutes), you should get back the full price of the item. Even if you return the item, the store will be getting the money for the coupon and for them to subtract out the value of the coupon when you return it would result in an unfair enrichment on their part.
Here's an example:
You buy Gator Golf at Target using the $5 coupon. I believe that Gator Golf is about $15.
You give them your coupon and $10. The minute that the coupon is scanned, it goes in to their "system" for reimbursement from Hasbro. In order for Hasbro to approve the reimbursement, they will make sure that Target sells sufficient quantities of Gator Golf, which includes all those people who buy Gator Golf without a coupon.
You get home and your child says "But Moooo-oooommmmm! Gator Golf is for baaaaabies!!!!!"
You go back to Target the next day to return it. Even though you are returning it, the $5 coupon is still in their system for reimbursement. If they give you back just $10, they will have the product that they can re-sell for $15 and in a few weeks, they will have $5 from Hasbro for your coupon.
In other words - you would have $10 and they would have $20 (the $15 Gator Golf and the $5 for the coupon)
But if they give you back $15, then everyone is even!
Clear as mud?
There are a few exceptions to this:
If I purchased something at the grocery store that had double coupons, I would have no problem if they subtracted out the doubled value (giving me the "single value), since that is a store promotion and comes out of their profit.
Likewise with store coupons: those are promotions for which the store often isn't reimbursed (although sometimes they are, but it's too hard to tell which is which to argue with them)
I do recognize that there is the potential for abuse with this.
Last week Ronzoni Bistros were Buy One Get One and I had 6 BOGO coupons. I got 12 for free (hey - my husband likes them for lunch...not me!). In theory, I should be able to take all 12 of them back and get $13.74 in cash ($2.29 x6) back, because Giant is getting reimbursed that amount from Ronzoni. But that just doesn't sit well with me. To me, that seems like scamming.
Do you think that you should get the money back for the coupon when you return something? As always - you are more than welcome to tell me why you think I am WrongWrongWrong...as long as everyone is respectful!