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Frugal Ethics Question: Printable Coupons

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 [3]]. 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?