The Coupon Information Corporation (CIC), manufacturers, retailers, and the more than 10,000 people employed by the coupon industry want you to use coupons.
Coupons save you money. They help manufacturers and retailers introduce you to new products and reacquaint you with your favorite brands. If used properly, everyone benefits from coupons.
The CIC also encourages smart shoppers to take advantage of every available, legitimate tool to maximize their savings. It’s a win-win situation for everyone when a consumer can purchase a product on sale, use a coupon and obtain even more savings by participating in a rebate/refund program.
It is important, however, that consumers follow the rules when enjoying the great savings available with coupons. Most of the time, there are clear rules for using coupons. However, there are a few gray areas where the rules are less than clear or false information on the Internet has caused confusion. What’s a couponer to do?
If you are reading this, you’re probably doing most things right already! Most people make an honest, reasonable effort to follow the rules. However, due to confusion and repeated consumer inquiries, CIC has compiled the following list of rules and suggested coupon etiquette.
- Store Acceptance. While most stores will gladly accept your coupons, they are under no legal obligation to do so. Indeed, when stores accept coupons, they are assuming the risk of the value of the coupons, plus their handling costs. Stores that have been victimized by coupon counterfeiters may be reluctant to accept certain kinds of coupons.
- Knowledge. Knowledge is power. Please read the terms & conditions and check the expiration dates on your coupons before going to the store. Many stores publish their coupon acceptance policies on their websites. This small effort will reduce the chance of any delay at the checkout and will make you a more confident shopper.
- Expiration Dates. Please don’t try to use expired coupons. No, you won’t be arrested if you do, but your store very well may not be paid when it accepts expired coupons. Cutting the expiration dates off to try to sneak them through is dishonest and will likely further decrease the chance the store will be paid for the coupons.
- Overage. Overage occurs when the value of a coupon exceeds the retail price for the pertinent product at the store where you’re shopping. Policies on overage vary by retailer and manufacturer, but you should understand that the intent of most coupons is to cover up to only the actual price of the product. 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.
Please don’t do any of the following activities. The penalties, criminal or civil, can be severe.
- Photocopies. Do not photocopy coupons. This is counterfeiting and is a criminal offense.
- Coupon Decoding. Each coupon is a contract and should be used only for the item described in writing on the coupon itself. Using a coupon for any product other than the one intended is a type of fraud similar to shoplifting.
- Buying coupons. When a person buys coupons, they may be inadvertently purchasing stolen property or counterfeit coupons. 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. Coupon sellers often include legal disclaimers stating that they are selling their time, a service, or even envelopes that just happen to contain coupons instead of the coupons themselves. Such statements are invalid and do not offer any legal protection. Rather, such statements suggest that the sellers know that their coupon sales are inappropriate and wrong.
- Stealing newspapers. This is theft, whether it is for personal use, resale, to supply an organized criminal enterprise, or any other reason, and can result in felony charges. In addition to the criminal penalties, the theft of newspapers often causes harm to hard working, small entrepreneurs who operate on very thin profit margins—usually a few pennies per newspaper. The theft of even a small number of papers may have a strong impact on their financial picture as consumers, no longer confident that they will receive the contents of their newspapers, will cancel their subscriptions or avoid certain newspaper boxes.
- Buying “extra” coupons from your newspaper carrier or some other newspaper employee is probably a violation of the carrier’s employment agreement and/or contractual agreements with his/her supplier and can result in termination.
- Reselling Stockpiles. Coupons are intended to give individual consumers a good deal, not provide a method for people to set up unauthorized grocery stores or flea markets in their garages, basements or backyards. Such sales usually violate the terms and conditions of the coupons themselves and may be in violation of local health codes. 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?
- Dumpster diving. If the dumpster is on private land, the “diver” can be arrested for trespassing. If the materials retrieved from the dumpster are meant for recycling, the “diver” can be arrested for theft. Dumpsters are not generally designed with “divers” in mind, and persons can fall in, get trapped, or suffer personal injuries if they venture into these containers. The CIC, for reasons of safety, strongly recommends that no one enter into dumpsters.
Please note that these are merely suggestions and are neither rules nor legal issues. They can, however, help make your couponing and shopping experiences more enjoyable.
- Cashiers. Please be polite to your cashier and to other store employees. Imagine yourself in their shoes before getting overly critical. Yes, sometimes mistakes will happen. When they do, politely point out the error and help resolve the problem for yourself and for the shoppers who will follow you.
- Shelf-Clearing. Coupons are intended to provide a large number of consumers with a discount. They are not intended to provide a few individuals with the opportunity to strip the shelves of more product than they will ever reasonably need. The number of stores placing limits on the number of coupons an individual can use in a shopping trip is increasing because of a small number of individuals who will clear a store of all their stock. You shouldn’t try to exceed these limitations.
Please be considerate when shopping at stores that don’t currently have any coupon related limitations. Buy what you need for your personal use, including enough for future use, but please leave product for other shoppers to buy.
- Coupons in the store. Please do not take every on-pack, peelie, blinky, or tear pad coupon you find. Just take what is appropriate for your personal needs and leave the rest for other shoppers. Taking an entire tear pad is inconsiderate to other couponers. Do not take a peelie off a product unless you intend to purchase that product.
- Multiple transactions. From time to time, some people may want to divide their purchases into multiple transactions. This is a courtesy that many stores provide and very helpful when picking up a few items for your friends or items needed for work or similar situations. However, buying a massive amount of product in one shopping trip, and then breaking up the “sale” into multiple transactions to use extra coupons or obtain extra discounts is simply bending the rules and is inappropriate.
- Organization. Please be organized. Don't keep the cashier or other customers waiting too long as you sort through your stack of coupons. This saves you time as well.
- 0ff-peak hours. If you are a very heavy couponer, please consider shopping during off-peak hours. Again, you don’t have to do this, but it makes it easier for everyone.
- Set an example. Most couponers are simply smart shoppers who know a great deal when they see it. 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.
Please feel free to leave any comment or suggestions about this document by contacting us.