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.