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Frugal Ethics Question: Printable Coupons

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Reader Jon relayed a story to me today about Superfresh supermarket and printable coupons. A cashier told Jon that they no longer accepted printable coupons from the web, probably because of fraud. Joe then discovered that the self-checkout aisle’s computers still scan and accept them, not surprising because these were legitimate coupons. Then he did the next logical step, he wondered if using them was ethical.

To help answer his question, I’m posing the question here along with what I think. I think there are several schools of thought on this issue. You could argue that if they didn’t want to accept printable coupons, they should program the scanners to differentiate and disallow printable coupons. You could also argue that it’s unfair to disallow printable coupons if they’re legitimate. Finally, you could argue that Superfresh makes the rules, you abide by them. There are more but I bet those three are the three most common responses (someone cue up the Family Feud theme).

Before I offer up my opinion, I had to confirm the policy. I tried to find a policy on printable coupons on the Superfresh site and couldn’t. The only point mentioned about coupons was that they should be presented first, presumably before any items [Superfresh Policies]. Since I couldn’t find an official policy on the site, I’d say that using printable coupons at Superfresh is perfectly ethical. The cashier may have been misinformed or simply having a bad day.

If they had listed that printable coupons are not acceptable on their site, then I think using them at Superfresh wouldn’t be ethical. They’re clearly legitimate coupons, since they scan, but if you have to find a loophole to get them to accept it, then I think that’s not entirely ethical. I’d be curious to know whether this is a local store policy or not, though I have no way of checking that.

What do you all think? OK to use coupons? Ethically gray but still OK? Not at all ethical?

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30 Responses to “Frugal Ethics Question: Printable Coupons”

  1. Ann says:

    Well, I have to say that I was at my local SuperFresh yesterday after having discovered coupon.com. Imagine my dismay being yelled at by the SELF CHECKOUT POLICE. She and the manager confirm no internet coupons allowed.

    I find this to be an unethical practice – keeping the policy ‘secret’ until AFTER you’ve run your groceries through. I wish I could have walked out without finishing my transaction, but I needed those groceries. All the same, I feel tricked into spending my $60 in their store under the guise that I could use my measly $2.05 in coupons.

    I am definitely going to call corporate today. Guilty until proven innocent seems to be their policy. No more ‘customer is king’.

  2. Jon says:

    I continue to use printed coupons at SF. They STILL haven’t updated their scanners. My total savings that prints on the bottom of every receipt is up to something like $1200.

  3. skater says:

    There is sufficient fraud with these coupons to understand a retailer being hesitant to accept them. Of course they are not going to make fraudulent coupons with the wrong barcodes, when they can take the codes from a legitimate coupon. I had a customer tell her computer to print 4 copies of a coupon. They all had the same unique barcode. I would only get paid for one. Why not print 99? 999? Why not photocopy it and give it to all your friends?

    In the end, if you obtained the coupon through honest sources and using it as intended, there is no ethical problem. But please, just because you got it from the internet doesn’t make it a real coupon.

  4. skater says:

    Oh by the way, it is not safe to assume that the grocery store is getting paid for every manufacturer coupon.

    If you scan it at the self checkout and don’t put it in the slot, how on earth do I get paid? Now that’s unethical.

    We accept legitimate coupons, and the manufacturer will not pay us sometimes. Because we are a small independent retailer, we have no leverage over these big conglomerates. If you cheating on coupons, it’s the retailer that’s going to pay.

  5. Brian says:

    My wife works at the self-checkout station at Walmart, and she told me that they are profiting from manufacture coupons in the coupon bin for which the item was never purchased; turned away, because her manager told her not to accept certain Internet coupons; however, once these coupons are in the coupon bin, they still redeem them.


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