"Dear Jill,

I was shopping at the supermarket the other day and had an extra-diligent cashier who looked at every single one of my coupons to make sure I did not use too many or exceed limits. A coupon for one of my products had this text in the terms: 'Coupon cannot be combined with other offers.' The cashier said that she thought this item was on sale, and because a sale is an 'offer,' she would not let me use the coupon.

Who is right? If the coupon is not valid during a sale, shouldn't it just say that? She would not even scan the coupon to try it. I am an honest coupon user and do not look to take advantage of the system.

Glenda V."

Over the past decade, I've had the pleasure of working both on the industry side of couponing and on the consumer side. Based on many years of experience in both areas, I find it very difficult to believe that the brand in question intended to prevent shoppers from ever using the coupon during a sale. No brand can reasonably expect shoppers to only use coupons on full-priced items. It would be equally as unreasonable to believe every single cashier is going to match a shopper's coupons to the store's weekly ad to see if each couponed item is part of a sale or not. Add in the unpredictability of unadvertised sales to the equation as well, and it becomes even more improbable that a brand could possibly stop shoppers from using coupons on sale items.

My reader is correct that the coupon would likely have scanned correctly. As long as the shopper purchased the correct item, the register would note that the coupon's usage was valid, and it would deduct the coupon's value from your total. For whatever reason, your cashier decided to interpret the coupon in a way that prevented you from using it.

So, if "Coupon cannot be combined with other offers" isn't referring to a sale, what is it referring to? The top two contenders are coupon stacking and loyalty promotions. Coupon stacking takes place when a shopper combines a store-issued coupon with a manufacturer's coupon. If I have a store coupon for 50 cents off a tube of toothpaste, and I've also got a $1 manufacturer coupon for the same kind of toothpaste, I can stack these together to save $1.50 on this same, single tube of toothpaste. Brands who wish to restrict coupon stacking may prohibit it in the coupon's terms with language like "Not to be combined with other coupons or offers."

Loyalty promotions reward shoppers by giving cash-back offers for future shopping trips, either in the form of a coupon for a future purchase or points loaded to a store's loyalty card. For example, a drugstore might have a sale on lipstick, noting that if a shopper buys two, she will receive $5 in loyalty cash for the next shopping trip. While these kinds of loyalty cash promotions give the shopper a dollars-off coupon for the store, they are often funded (in whole or in part) by the brand or brands participating in the promotion. While this is likely to be an unpopular stance to take with my readers, I understand that a brand may not want to pay both for the coupon discount and the loyalty reward received from using a coupon discount. However, from a practical standpoint, this is a very difficult thing to police. Shoppers and cashiers alike may not understand the meaning of a statement like "cannot be combined with other offers,"which leaves it open to interpretation and confusion.

I believe that if a brand is going to offer a coupon, the brand should expect to reimburse the store for that coupon's usage in all instances – whether the item in question is purchased during a sale, during a loyalty promotion, or in conjunction with a store coupon. Expecting consumers and cashiers to interpret intentionally vague wording simply opens the door to confusion on both sides.

©CTW Features

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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