Coupon Etiquette: A Primer

















Couponing is more popular – and more necessary, for many families – than ever. The more you coupon, the more important it is to make sure that you’re following accepted etiquette. You’ll leave a positive impression with your fellow shoppers, your local cashiers, and other couponers. And you’ll help encourage stores and manufacturers to continue to provide coupons.

Here are some basic rules you should follow when practicing the art of couponing:

  • Read the fine print. Organize your coupons before you shop. Make sure you understand exactly which product sizes and variations are valid for purchase with each coupon. For example, if the coupon is for a 20-ounce bottle of orange soda, don’t plan to use it with a 12-ounce can of root beer. Even if it’s an honest mistake, the cashier may think you’re trying to pull a fast one.
  • Don’t use photocopied coupons. Unless the store is providing them, using photocopied coupons may be considered coupon fraud, which is against the law.
  • Don’t use more than two coupons per item. The general rule is that you can use one store coupon and one manufacturer’s coupon per item. If you try to use more, chances are you are violating store policy or the terms of one of the coupons you are already using.
  • Never take a coupon insert from a paper you haven’t paid for. Unfortunately, coupon theft is on the rise. Some people are stealing coupon inserts either from store newspapers or from newspapers other people have already paid for. Saving a few bucks isn’t worth your integrity.
  • Know the store’s coupon policy. Your grocery store, retailers and local merchants will all have different coupon policies. Some may allow you to use coupons for items that are on sale, but others won’t. Some may give you cash back if your coupons exceed the value of what you’ve purchased, while others may not allow this. They will all have different rules around rain checks. Familiarize yourself with the store’s policies so you don’t have an issue when you’re in the checkout line.
  • Don’t take more than your share of coupons. If the store has tear pad coupons or coupon dispensers, take one or two, not five or ten. Leave some for your fellow couponers and other customers.
  • Avoid peak shopping hours. If you show up at 5pm with the crowd that’s trying to buy groceries for tonight’s dinner, you’re going to make the cashiers’ jobs that much more stressful. Shop when the store tends to be less crowded, such as later at night or early in the morning.
  • If you can’t use it, give it away. If you discover while at the store that you can’t use a coupon but it is still valid, leave it for someone else who may be able to make use of it.
  • Don’t clear the shelves. While many couponers love the thrill of getting a vast amount of items for nothing (or next to nothing), only do this if you can actually use that vast amount. Don’t be greedy and leave the shelves bare; be considerate of your fellow shoppers and take only what you know you and your family will actually use.
  • Survey the checkout line. If the person behind you has one item and no coupons, and you have 20 items and 20 coupons, let them go ahead of you. This common courtesy will help give you and your fellow couponers a good name.
  • Always be kind to the cashier. Even if you find that the checkout person has an attitude about your coupons, smile graciously and thank them for their help. They may have had a run-in with an unfriendly couponer or someone who tried to trick them into honoring coupons that weren’t valid.
  • Have your method of payment at the ready. This is especially important if a line has formed behind you while the cashier was scanning your coupons. Your fellow shoppers – and the cashier – will appreciate anything you can do to streamline the process.
  • Use the customer service desk. If you have a disagreement with the cashier about how you are using your coupons, politely ask them if a manager might have additional insight. If the manager does not assist you, finish your transactions and bring the issue to the customer service desk.  If the customer service desk won’t help you, and you believe you are still in the right, follow up with a polite letter or phone call to the company that owns the store.  You’d be surprised how often you will receive a response if you keep things civil.

If you follow these simple guidelines, you and your fellow shoppers will have a more pleasant experience. And, just as important, you’ll help make sure that couponers everywhere get to continue to do what we love – find great deals.

About the Author:
Rebecca Lisanne Wells is a writer, editor, and web consultant. Her writing often focuses on consumer interests, web best practices, and American literature and culture. Rebecca has written for Monster.com, Fidelity Investments, Zooba.com, The National Gazette, CareScout, and numerous web development and design agencies. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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