Tag Archives: Grocery store

Is Walmart worried?

Walmart continues to up the ante with its series of commercials about it offering low prices. First, it was steaks. Then, groceries and back to school items. Now, it’s cell phones and even a campaign to send in your receipt to see the price differences for yourself.

Business and marketing analysts say Walmart is no longer considered the cheapest retailer, and they’re worried about their stake. It’s an interesting situation for the world’s largest retailer.

Quality is an issue for the retail giant, so they began running ads comparing their steaks to Kansas City steaks. They did a blind taste test to see if people could really tell the difference between a KC steak and a Walmart cut.

Then, they began local ads that compared their grocery prices to the giant in that area. In our case, it was Giant Eagle. While Giant Eagle had the highest prices in a comparison I did for NewsChannel 5, Walmart’s prices were not the cheapest. Also, couponers are loyal to Giant Eagle because they say prices are cheapest when they use coupons and shop the sales. Giant Eagle doubles coupons. Walmart does not.

Now, Giant Eagle is trying to get you thinking about purchasing their $45 a month cell phone plans. It’s working. It got my husband’s attention. He said, “Can you really get a cell phone plan with unlimited everything for $45 a month?” The answer is yes, but how good is the service?  The coverage map shows good coverage for the non-Android market, but far less coverage for the Android market. There’s very little Straight Talk coverage in the western half of the United States.

While the coverage map looks spotty, I talked to an IT professional who uses Straight Talk and loves it. I’ll talk more about that option Thursday.

In select markets, Walmart is now asking you to send in a copy of a competitor’s receipt to see how much you could have saved if you shopped at the retail giant. In  Albuquerque, Atlanta, and Chicago area, you can take a picture of a receipt and within 24 – 48 hrs., Walmart will let you know how much you would have saved if you shopped for similar products at Walmart.

The receipt can’t be more than seven days old. Comparisons will only be for similar grocery, health and wellness, beauty and consumable items.  If you buy private label or items like produce or meats that vary by weight, they will not be included in the comparison.

While Walmart is not including coupons and loyalty cards in their in your face advertising campaign for groceries, loyalty cards and special deals and pricing will be considered in the receipt comparison. Coupons will still not be considered because Walmart says it’s hard to decipher on a receipt if the coupon is a manufacturer or retailer coupon, and receipts don’t always make it clear which item they were used to discount.

The giant retailer is also offering dollar deals to compete with dollar stores. Marketing experts say that’s cutting into their profits as well. Dollar stores are expanding and growing. Some now offer groceries. Walmart wants you to think it offers products at an affordable price.  That’s an interesting move considering quality is something the retailer is trying to stress with its steak commercials.

What do you think about Walmart’s ads and push to sell you on its products and quality? Click comment below.

Coupon industry warns stores participating in “Extreme Couponing” show

Coupons became a controversial word in 2011 after the television show, “Extreme Couponing” hit the airwaves. There are questions about how coupons are redeemed on the show. Plus, people are still reacting in in extreme ways. Now, the not-for-profit group that fights coupon redemption issues and fraud for product manufacturers is issuing an extreme warning for grocery stores thinking about participating in this show that highlights extreme behaviors.

The Coupon Information Corporation (CIC) began fighting coupon fraud in 1986. It’s been raising concerns about the TLC Show, “Extreme Couponing” since it started airing. CIC said some of the consumers in the show used counterfeit coupons violating state or federal laws, manufacturer redemption policies, and / or retailers coupon policies.

The focus to this point has been on consumer behavior and the show. The CIC even issued a “Considerate Couponing” policy this fall to encourage shoppers to think about their fellow shoppers and limit their shelf clearing. In that policy, CIC reminded consumers that a store doesn’t have to accept coupons and it’s a risk because the retailer assumes the value and handling costs until it is reimbursed. That’s why some stores don’t accept Internet coupons. It’s too risky because too many are counterfeit.

Now, the CIC is focusing on the retailers who participate in the show. The group warned retailers that taping opens a retailer to potential legal issues, financial loss from coupons that can’t be reimbursed, and potentially negative publicity. Consumers often get upset when they see on television what appear to be actions that bend the rules of couponing or the store coupon policy, and often take their concerns straight to the store that participated.

For a NewsChannel 5 story I did on this issue last June, TLC told me the show focuses on extreme behaviors and the network is happy with the show’s performance.

Reward for counterfeit coupon abuse
The CIC has always been interested in counterfeit coupons, but just below this warning for retailers is a link to information about $100,000 award for counterfeit coupons unrelated to the TLC show. The placement is interesting. In my opinion, it shows product manufacturers are turning up the heat on this industry issue.

A $100,000 reward is offered for anyone who can lead the CIC to the identity and prosecution of the individuals who produced and distributed counterfeit coupons online. The reward ends with the following warning in large, bold type: “Individuals and internet sites attempting to redeem, transmit, auction, post, reproduce, transfer, barter or sell counterfeit coupons may be subject to criminal prosecution and/or civil act.”

I credit the CIC for trying to police this issue. Many coupon issues have come to the forefront in the last year. Some are more extreme and raise more questions than others. For example, people are also selling their coupons online and making big bucks even though most coupons prohibit this activity. To get around it, couponers who engage in this activity say you’re paying for their time and not clipping coupons.

Other couponers resell all the extra goods they purchased with coupons. This is called a stockpile sale. To deal with this issue, some manufacturers are adding language to the coupons that says you can’t buy an item with a coupon with the intention of reselling that product.

Neither practice is illegal, but is it ethical?

Bottom line – the controversy and extreme behavior is not going away.  All this attention is simply making it harder to legitimately use coupons to save a few bucks for your family.

Related stories you may like:

Giant Eagle responds to coupon policy changes
Coupon industry responds to coupon to problems
Extreme couponers sell their deals at yard sales
Making money with coupons – some trends generate controversy 
Who coupons? It may not be who you think

Coupon website offers access to high value coupons

Want to get access to high value coupons before everyone else? Coupons.com is offering free access to the offers through their Savings Club. The club normally costs a fee, but it’s being offered for free for a limited time.

You simply add your store savings card to your account, and then start electronically clipping coupons or adding them to your card. Within thirty minutes of clipping, the coupons are activated and available for use at the store.

The site says the average savings is $16 a month, but it’s too early for me to tell if that’s possible. Right now, shoppers in the Savings Club can get a listerine offer for buy one get one free, $2 off TASSIMO coffee, and handful of $0.50-$1.00 offers.

For me, the participating stores are the real issue. After I signed up, I realized my store is not included. The following stores and their loyalty programs participate: Bakers, Carrs, City Market, Dillons, Dominick’s, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Genuardi’s, Gerbes, JayC, King Scoopers, Korger, Pavilions, Pay Less, QFC, Raplphs, Randalls, Safeway, ShopRite, Smith’s, Tom Thumb, and Vons.

While a store in my area is not participating, I can still take advantage of some of the savings. It’s just, I have to print those coupons. There’s a $1.50 FRESCHETTA coupon available to Savings Club members that does not appear in my normal Coupons section for non-members in my zip code.

It’s too early for me to tell if it’s really worth the $3 investment for the sneak peak at higher value coupons that I can only print because my grocer doesn’t participate in the electronic clipping program. I’m not immediately blown away by the offers, but we’ll see what happens over the next few months.

Terms of free promotion
The free promotion will last until March 16th or until 151,516 new Savings Club subscriptions are added, whichever comes first. You have to give your credit card to create an account. Your credit card will automatically be charged next year at this time when the free trial period ends. It will cost $3 a month to continue the service. While the terms and conditions say you’ll be automatically charged at the end of the free trial, the fine print also says that you’ll get an email reminding you that your email will be charged.

To avoid any problems, I suggest setting a reminder on your phone or another service so you don’t forget to evaluate the offer next year at this time before you are charged. According to the fine print, shoppers who agree to this free trial should not be surprised by a charge next year. The fine print says the email you’ll get about the renewal will remind you that your account will be converted from a free to paid account, that your credit card will be charged, and cancellation information if you are not interested.

At that time, if you decide to keep the subscription, you should still check your account. You’ll be renewed at the $3 a month fee, but there’s also an offer for $30 for a year. That is cheaper because you’ll get 2 months free.

If you like coupons, it might be worth a try to see if you can save even more money in this club. I’ll keep you updated on my thoughts as I’m now a member.

Who coupons? Study shows it may not be who you think

Coupons have generated a lot of debate this year as shows like “Extreme Couponing” aired. I’ve been using coupons all my life, so it’s interesting that now they generate controversy. So, who is using all these coupons? A nationwide survey by the University of Arizona reveals it may not be who you think.

Researcher and division chair of retailing and consumer sciences, Anita Bhappu, found higher users are the most affluent with 24-percent reporting a household income of at least $75,000.

In the study, these high users are called “coupon divas.”

“They don’t use coupons because of financial constraints but because they perceive coupons as saving them money,” said Bhappu.

Among those who didn’t use coupons, 61-percent had a house hold income of $35,000 or less. This survey shows your income doesn’t always drive coupon usage.

Coupons are no longer just the ones you use at the grocery store. Groupon and Living Social have given rise to a new type of coupon. You can now use coupons at salons, spas, and sporting events. While not specifically surveyed in this study, they will be evaluated in the future.

It’s not all women using coupons, either. The survey found 48-percent of coupon divas are men.

While shows like “Extreme Couponing” show people going to extremes to use coupons, and my story on stockpile sale showed people going to extremes to make money off coupons, the study found coupon divas generally use six or more coupons each time they shop.

Related links you may like:
Garage sale for extreme couponers
Coupon industry responds to problems
Coupon controversy

Starbucks offering Keurig K-Cups of select blends

Coffee lovers went crazy for Dunkin’ Donuts K Cups for the Keurig coffeemaker. Three months later, it’s still a popular story on my blog. Now, Starbucks is joining the K-Cup race.

Breakfast Blend, Pike Place Roast, Sumatra, Caffe Verona, French Roast and House Blend will be offered in K-Cups. Keurig says these K-Cup options are now available in Starbucks stores, although I haven’t seen them yet. The K-Cups will be available online via Keurig on December 27th.

Just remember to look past the hype. I found it’s cheaper to ignore the K-Cup phenomenon for Dunkin’ Donuts.  I simply bought a K-Cup filter and put ground Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in my filter every morning. I save even more by getting the ground coffee at the coffee shop and not the grocery store. I essentially make my own K-Cup every morning for a much cheaper price.

The pricing is unclear at this time for the Starbucks K-Cup, but K-Cup’s are generally more than ground coffee. You can get a great deal on Starbucks ground coffee at the grocery store. There are frequently sales and $1 off coupons. With the discounts, believe it or not, I pay less for Starbucks ground coffee for my fiance than I do my DD coffee.

So, it’s exciting for you Starbucks lovers. Just continue to be smart shoppers and do the price comparisons in your community. It might be cheaper to stick with the ground Starbucks coffee and make your own K-Cup every morning with a K-Cup filter.

I think most blends can be duplicated on your own with ground coffee, with one exception. If Starbucks expanded its blends and came out with a Pumpkin Spice K-Cup, I would buy those expensive K-Cups. It would save me $5 at Starbucks, but considering it’s so popular with so many people I don’t see that happening.

Now, if Starbucks expanded their K-Cup options and made a Pumpkin Spice Latte blend, I might buy the K-Cups. Pumpkin spice is a magical drink that I don’t think ground coffee could duplicate. However, I don’t see that happening considering so many people flock to Starbucks every fall for that spicy treat.

Coupon industry responds to problems

The coupon industry is fighting back trying to rein in the out of control consumers who are using coupons to make money. The Coupon Information Corporation represents manufacturers and admits that while there are couponing rules there are also gray areas.  if you want to continue saving money while helping 10,000 people in the couponing industry keep their job, CIC says you should follow its “Considerate Couponing” guidelines.

“Unfortunately, the inappropriate actions of a few extreme couponers inaccurately portray couponers in a bad light. Try to raise the bar by following the rules, and being a courteous shopper,” CIC said in outlining its “Considerate Couponing” policy.

CIC reminds consumers that stores are under no legal obligation to accept coupons and that it’s a risk for stores because they have to assume the value and handling costs until they get reimbursed. If the coupon is counterfeit, the store won’t get their money back even though they offered the savings to the consumer at checkout. To deal with this issue, some stores are no longer accepting Internet coupons.

Many couponers like to shop at Walmart because they can earn money to shop at that store because the discount chain pays an overage. That’s when your coupon value is more than the retail price of the product. CIC says “Coupons are for ‘cents off’ the price of the product. Overage is an unusual situation and you should not expect to receive cash back on the purchase of a product.”

Popular items that are prohibited by CIC
Now, the gray areas like buying coupons and reselling your items at a stockpile sale. I’ve reported on the rise of both activities for NewsChannel 5, and it outraged some couponers.  CIC calls these activities “strictly prohibited,” but until someone cracks down on this activity it will continue.

The fine print on most coupons says void if sold or reproduced, yet people are still buying and selling coupons on sites like Ebay. The seller tells you that you’re paying for the time it takes to clip and collect the coupon and that the price you pay is not for the coupon itself. The disclaimer may make the seller feel better but CIC says it doesn’t make the activity right and doesn’t provide legal protection. CIC says it just shows that the seller knows selling coupons is wrong.

CIC says, “Even if there is not a direct criminal penalty involved, both coupon buyers and sellers open the door to potential litigation when they buy or sell coupons because they are in violation of the “nontransferability” clause printed on all coupons distributed within the United States. The transfer makes a coupon void.”

Stockpile sales are all over Craigslist. That’s where an extreme couponer sells their surplus items to the public like a tag sale for grocery store products. Most coupons don’t say anything about this activity, but it does raise ethical questions. Some coupons are beginning to say they are void or invalid if used to buy that product for resale purposes, but CIC says,”Such sales usually violate the terms and conditions of the coupons themselves and may be in violation of local health codes.” Maybe they’ll violate the terms in the future as this language is added, but I’ve checked a lot of coupons and this warning is still on very few.

CIC goes on to ask, “As a consumer, do you really want to buy a product that has been stored in a stranger’s basement for weeks, months or even years?”

Making a statement about this isn’t going to change much. It’s been known for some time that this activity happens despite the fine print on coupons. If CIC really wants to make a statement on this, they should start filing lawsuits on behalf of product manufacturers or at least sending cease and desist orders to these mom and pop operations.

Better etiquette needed
CIC says dumpster diving is controversial and doesn’t advise it for safety reasons.

It also gives advise for good couponing etiquette like not clearing the shelves in the store, and buying your items in multiple transactions to take advantage of deals. CIC also suggests you shop during off-peak hours if you use a lot of coupons so you’re not delaying other shoppers.

What do you think of the problems in the coupon industry? Click comment and weigh in on this issue.

Making money with coupons – why some trends generate controversy and others don’t

People are passionate about money-saving offers whether they’re for $20 or $2. Say the word “coupon” and people react strongly.  With this topic, I’ve come to expect the unexpected. There are two trends that couponers are exploring to make money off couponing, but only one generated an extreme response even though it’s the other one that is clearly against coupon rules.

On most coupons, it says the discount is void if sold or transferred. However, online sites like eBay are a platform many couponers use to sell their stockpile of offers.

A woman who spoke to me for a NewsChannel 5 story, told me how she makes $300-400 a month selling coupons on eBay. To get around the policy issue, couponers tell bidders they are paying for their time and service and not the coupon itself.

The disclaimers are criticized by the Coupon Information Corporation which is made up of product manufacturers who fight fraud and issues within the coupon industry. The disclaimers are even against eBay’s policy, but there are hundreds on the site. eBay admits it does not police the posts.

We heard from many viewers who said they have sold and bought coupons on eBay even though it’s a violation of a coupon. A woman who teaches couponing classes told me it’s a secret weapon for many couponers. It’s really the best way to get multiples of a coupon since we only get one insert in the Sunday paper. Surprisingly, nobody was outraged by this practice perhaps because most people are engaged in it.

Stockpile sales generate controversy
There’s another practice that’s popping up where couponers make money off the multiple items they  buy at the store. This is often refered to as a stockpile sale, and it’s nothing more than a yard or garage sale full of health and beauty products.

Extreme couponers buy dozens of one item, and then stockpile them in their home. Usually they allow friends or family members to shop their house or they donate the extra goods to a charity. Now, couponers are using it to raise money for family trips, events, etc. One woman said she made hundreds of dollars a weekend for her niece’s trip to Florida.

The stockpile story drew extreme outrage. Couponers were shocked we shared the story with others. While the upset couponers voiced their opinion the loudest, I did hear from viewers who thanked me for airing the story because they needed to find new ways to save and make ends meet in this sour economy.

While it may be extreme behavior to hold a stockpile sale, very few coupons prohibit this practice. A few are beginning to add language prohibiting resale for items you purchase with a coupon. However, the warnings are still few and far between. As one couponer put it to me — she cringed when she saw the story but knew it wasn’t wrong. She realizes there are some activities that are more ethical than others.

After the strong reaction about a trend that’s not currently a violation of most coupons, I worried about sharing the eBay couponing story given that it’s clearly against most coupon policies. However, it’s my job as a journalist to report on the trends and ask questions about them. It’s not my job to decide which trend is right or wrong, and only air selective trends.

The bottom line – until someone begins policing these trends they will continue to exist. I’ll continue to report on them as it’s my job to report all the trends rather than only selective ones.

What do you think about selling and buying coupons on eBay? Click comment below.

Coupons shouldn’t be this difficult to use

Couponing should not be so difficult. This weekend, I went to two stores and used coupons. At both, I had problems. It’s one reason I think people don’t use them, because they don’t want to deal with the hassles.  If the fight takes awhile, it’s almost not worth it because time is money.

In the first instance, the coupon simply didn’t ring up at the big box store. The woman looked at the printed coupon, and looked at me as if to size me up to see if I was trying to commit coupon fraud. I was sweaty and on my way back from the gym, but really? There was nothing about this coupon that looked fraudulent. Then, she groaned and tried to tell me they don’t take coupons that don’t scan. Not so fast! I am a frequent coupon user, and I know that is not the case because half the time the manufacturer coupons I clip from the paper don’t scan properly.

The woman then looked at the picture on the coupon and said it’s not valid because it’s only for Father’s Day cards and I bought generic cards. Wrong! I said there is a picture of Father’s Day cards but read the bold print – it says good for any card. I point out “any” to her and then she obviously read the rest of the coupon that said excludes cards 99-cents or less. She interprets that as meaning the coupon is only valid for cards 99-cents or less. Wrong again!

By this point, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from this woman. She was trying everything possible to not accept this $2 coupon. Little did she know she was dealing with a consumer advocate, and I was ready for war! After a good 3-4 minutes, she finally accepted the coupon. I felt bad for the guy behind me who thought he was going to zip through line quickly because I had so few items. Sorry sir. I am ready to fight to save money.

Next, it was time for grocery shopping. I gave the cashier several coupons, and she rang them up. I watched carefully at the end for my $2 electronic coupon. It never appeared. I received several free items in the transaction thanks to sales and coupons, and I wanted the cereal as close to free as possible. Combined with the sale price, the manufacturer coupon, and the e-coupon I was paying next to nothing for that cereal. Only, the $2 e-coupon never came off my bill. The cashier had no idea how to fix the problem, and called over a supervisor. He threw his hands up, too, and sent me to the service desk. Much to my surprise, the service desk employees threw their hands up too and handed me a piece of paper with corporate’s phone number. Really, only corporate can handle electronic offers?

I called corporate this morning, and within minutes they loaded $2 onto my card. Apparently, they were having problems with their e-system. I was glad it was so easy to get my $2. It didn’t take any arguing, but why couldn’t the store help me with this? It’s a reminder to watch carefully. Know how much you’re owed in savings, and fight to get that discount.

This is not the first time a coupon system has failed me. This past summer, I got caught up in the Target coupon mess. The company’s computer system wasn’t scanning all the coupons properly, so consumers were not always getting full price. You really had to know the true value of your coupons before you handed over the coupons.

These three examples are proof you need to keep track of discounts you’re owed because computers and human error sometimes miscalculate your savings.  Don’t give up trying to save money. Just be ready to fight.

Don’t let coupons drive you to buy “EXTREME”ly unusual products

I’m not an extreme couponer, but I like to save money at the grocery store. I don’t go crazy and spend hours matching up my coupons with sale items to save big. I stick to the basics every week, and buy in bulk when I find a good sale.

Once you start clipping coupons, you see the same ones over and over. They come in cycles. Some are seasonal, while others appear every few weeks. You’ll especially notice this if you rely on online coupon sites.

Coupons are also used to introduce new products to the market. It’s a way to get you to try a product. I know this, and when I get bored with the same old staples in my life I mix it up and use a coupon to save on that new food. I can’t remember a time that I had a bad experience doing that, until last week.

I eat yogurt almost on a daily basis. It gets old after awhile. How much low-fat strawberry yogurt can one person eat? I’ve mixed it up by adding strawberry Greek yogurt to the mix. Still boring. So, I decided to try cottage cheese. I had a coupon for a new version of cottage cheese. It came in flavors and regular. I had a coupon for singles or a four pack. I wanted to try the single carton first, but the single shelves were empty. Since it was an impulse buy, I failed and splurged for the four pack.

Typically, a four pack of yogurt costs no more than $2.00 retail and the final price I pay is often less than that because I have a coupon that gets doubled at my grocery store. The four pack was more than $3 for regular cottage cheese and around $3 for flavored. Plus, the serving size was smaller. I couldn’t believe how expensive it was, but it was still cheaper than the store brand if I used the coupon.

As I sat there staring at the two containers (regular or flavored cottage cheese), I became fixated on the high price. Not only did I make an impulse buy because I had a coupon and was in the mood for something different, I let price drive my decision. I bought the strawberry shortcake cottage cheese. I love strawberries and love strawberry shortcake even better. I’d had that flavor yogurt and it tasted great so I thought it can’t taste that bad, and bought it against my better judgement.

When I got home, I took a bite. It was the most disgusting thing I ever ate. It was inedible. I had my boyfriend try it. Same thing. Now, I have three containers of disgusting cottage cheese sitting in my refrigerator. Eventually, I’ll throw them in the trash. I thought I was saving money while trying something new. In the end, all I did was waste money because I let money and a coupon drive my decision on what food to eat.

Saving money is important, but make sure it’s a smart financial decision. Don’t let a coupon drive your decision. I’m usually good at that, looking at the price per ounce and comparing name brand products that usually come with a coupon with store brand products. This time, money drove my decision and at a time when I thought I was saving money, I wasted money.

Do you know what’s on your produce?

When you walk in the grocery store, you are greeted by an array of colors from deep purple eggplant to yellow lemons.  The colors always seem to shine. Have you ever wondered why?

A wax coating is added to the fruit during packaging to maintain the freshness.  The wax holds the moisture inside the apple and keeps it looking shiny and fresh at the grocery store.  It’s to appease consumers who buy with their eyes.

The Food and Drug Administration approves the use of food grade wax, but requires distributors and grocers disclose the wax to you.  The FDA tells consumers to look for signs at the grocery store like the one to the left.  However, we found they’re hard to find.  We only found them at three locations we visited.  Five other grocers, and the West Side Market did not have the signs.

As a result of our investigation, stores are taking action.  Consumers will see signs during their next shopping trip.

In our hidden camera investigation, many grocers told us that organic food was wax free.  However, that’s not the case.  The USDA says certain waxes may be used on organic produce.

To read more on this issue, click here.

Wax put to the test
We visited an apple farm in Northeast Ohio to see how the wax is applied.  Apples naturally have wax on them.  If you pick one from the orchard and rub the dust and debris from the orchard off on your pant leg, you will notice the apple shines.  During production, that natural wax is removed.  The apple is washed and scrubbed to remove the debris from the orchard.  Then, a food grade wax is added to the apple to replace the natural wax that’s lost.

We took three apples from the orchard to see if waxed produce really holds up better. We took a naturally waxed apple, washed apple, and an apple with the food grade wax on it.  We set them up in three locations at NewsChannel 5.  Our promotions team wanted to speed up the decay, and placed lights over the apples. We instantly saw decay, but it was on the washed and waxed apple.  We believe this is because of the direct light. The decay is happening right where the lights shine on the apple.

In our second test, we put three apples in a boiler room. There’s no sunlight, but it’s a little warmer back there with all the old machinery that runs in that room.  About a week into the test, we noticed the washed apple began to decay. The waxed one is holding up great.

In our third test, we put three apples on a window sill.  There is not a noticeable difference between the apples at this point, although the washed one is softer to the touch.

Click here to see the results of our three unscientific tests.