Controversy Surrounding TLC's 'Extreme Couponing' Causes Stores to Change Their Policies
By SJ Johnson
Like many viewers, I'm hooked on the TLC show, 'Extreme Couponing.' Part of the appeal is watching average consumers save hundreds of dollars at the grocery store; however, when I watch the show, I'm torn. One part of me admires the couponers' shopping savvy; the other part of me knows that no one needs 100 bottles of mustard or hot sauce. There seems to be an element of greed and gluttony that doesn't sit well with me. Sure, some of the "stars" donate their bounty to food banks and charities; yet, others keep a stockpile under their children's beds and in nearly every available crevice. Just as I'm grappling with the moral issues of stockpiling and clearing shelves of sale items, I learned that one of the show's couponers allegedly cheated.
According to Smartmoney.com, J'aime Kirlew appears to have fraudulently bought items that did not match her coupons. Eagle-eyed viewers spotted that Ms. Kirlew organized her shopping list by manufacturer and barcode and not by item. The way this works is that the shopper matches the coupon barcode to a different item and not the item the coupon is actually supposed to represent. For example, a coupon for toilet paper could be used to buy toothpaste if the barcode and manufacturer are the same. This is significant because the couponer can use a high value coupon on a less expensive product. Jill Cataldo, a coupon expert, discusses the controversy on her website, JillCataldo.com.
The controversy has jarred the couponing community. Couponers fear that it will be a reflection on all of them. In fact, due to this controversy, changes are in the works. In a follow-up article, Ms. Cataldo writes about the changes manufacturers and retailers are making. Coupon manufacturers made it clear that using a coupon for a different item than intended is fraud, and they have changed the coupon barcode to avoid misuse. Grocery stores are also fighting back. The main issue is that on the show, you see these expert couponers clearing the shelves of sale items. Some couponers buy 100 or more sale items by using multiple coupons on one item and/or using hundreds of coupons per purchase. Other couponers buy sale items and then use coupons that will double in order to get a credit balance; therefore, the store owes them money. They then use that credit balance to purchase other items, such as meat or to receive store credit. Obviously, this tactic is very profitable for the couponers but not for the stores.
In response to these renegade tactics, many stores are limiting the amount of sale items you can purchase. They also limit the amount of coupons you can use per shopping order. For example, many stores in big cities, such as New York, do not double coupons or if they do, the dollar amount is limited. Additionally, the coupon will only double up to the value of the item, so you cannot get money or credit back on your shopping order.
'Extreme Couponing' is having another unforeseen effect. Consumers, such as my neighbor Mrs. Smith who is a frequent grocery store shopper, say that since the show, their coupon inserts are missing from their newspapers and weekly flyers. Mrs. Smith says, "This show has made it impossible for us to get our coupons in the newspaper because someone removes them before selling the newspaper. Someone is stealing the coupons." She believes that the popularity of the show has resulted in this "coupon craze."
I don't know if TLC knew that 'Extreme Couponing' would be such a hit or could have predicted the implications this show would have on consumers and retailers. As my neighbor said, "Now, everyone is coupon crazy."
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