I’ve wanted to ask a question of our retailer readers for some time now, and for reasons I will explain in a moment, I am posing it now: Do you have major coupon users that shop your store, and if so, do you welcome them or wish they would shop somewhere else? I would love to have your responses emailed to my address, [email protected], with the subject line “Couponing.”
The question surfaced again over the holidays, when I watched the premiere episode of “Extreme Couponing” on The Learning Channel (TLC). The hour-long show featured four folks from across the country who get most of their groceries free, in essence. They combine manufacturers’ coupons (lots of them), store coupons, in-store specials and any other savings mechanisms available to cut their grocery bills to the bone.
Safeway was one of the stores visited by stay-at-home mom Joanie from California, who goes as far as to go dumpster-diving for coupons others have thrown away. On her televised shopping trip, before coupons were deducted, her total was $638.64; after, she paid $2.64. Included in her shopping cart of 250 items were 40 boxes of pasta and 20 liters of soft drinks. At home, she literally has grocery-store-worthy shelving in her garage, and she rotates her stock just like a store would (she keeps all the labels straight, too). In the narrative, she said her husband had lost his job a few years ago and the family had been able to feed themselves from their stockpile for several months until he ultimately enlisted in the military. She also said that even if she won the lottery, she would never stop couponing nor would she ever pay more than $1 for a box of cereal!
Joyce, a retired nurse from Philadelphia, not only does extreme couponing herself but preaches the coupon gospel to everyone she meets. And she meets a lot of people, going door-to-door to ask her neighbors if they have any coupons she can have and picking up coupons from those who already save them for her. She started using coupons out of necessity when she was a teenaged single mother and never looked back. Joyce said she has no debt. (I guess when you get $230 worth of groceries for $6.32 you can put money towards a lot of other things.) In the show’s footage, Joyce accosted people in the grocery store to ask them if they had a coupon for certain items they were buying and enlighten them on ways to save. Not sure it was always welcome advice, but she couldn’t contain herself.
In addition to her job as a storage facility manager, Amanda in Ohio spends 70 hours a week researching in-store promotions, clipping coupons and searching the internet for deals. She has stockpiled more than 3,000 rolls of toilet paper over the years. On the show, she and her husband paid a little over $51 for $1,175 worth of goods, including 150 candy bars. (Not a good idea for most of us.)
A Kentucky man named Nathan was probably the most extreme of all. He and his wife purposed to get out of debt four years ago and did so by using coupons, which he files in huge notebooks to help him get organized for massive shopping trips. The couple has a virtual store in their garage, too, with shelves holding hundreds of packages of deodorants, soaps, cereals, dry pasta (a favorite of couponers since it lasts on the shelf for a long time) and more. For the show, Nathan embarked on the biggest shopping trip of his life—buying $5,743 worth of food and general merchandise items for $241. He had called the store in advance to let them know he would be buying 1,100 boxes of cereal so they could make sure it was in stock. Sometimes you shake your head at this stockpiling mentality, wondering how many decades it would take to use 200 sticks of deodorant, but he and his wife did donate most of the cereal they bought to their local food pantry and church, which made me feel a little bit better about it all.
Bottom line is, most people don’t have either the time or inclination to coupon like this. More people are using coupons now from the statistics we’ve seen, mostly because of the economy, but the time it takes to collects thousands of coupons and organize your shopping trip to maximize your savings like this is out of reach for most.
But being in this business, it made me think about what goes on behind the scenes after a shopper like that comes in. How long does it take for the retailer to be reimbursed and what kind of challenges does a transaction like that create in the store? For the TV show, for instance, store employees dropped what they were doing to help push multiple carts to the checkout line.
So is this kind of couponing good for the shopper and for the retailer? I would love to know. Responses will be printed in an upcoming issue. Thanks.