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Bargain Junkies Are Beating Retailers at Their Own Game
December 3, 2010 9:24 AM   Subscribe

A new brand of super shoppers use coupons and other discounts to get products for absurdly low prices. The Web has turned this group from a series of independent operators into cohesive groups, frustrating retailers.
posted by reenum (126 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

 
Groupons previously
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:26 AM on December 3, 2010


"The process of selling a DVD player [...] to the growing ranks of self-educated buyers is becoming as tortuous as selling them a new car. GetHuman.com, a continuously updated list of direct customer service lines and telephone-prompt guides, is undermining the ability of companies to resolve calls with automated systems."

For these big-box, robo-service retailers a single tear, available now at 50% off, will moisten the worlds smallest discount violin.
posted by mhoye at 9:29 AM on December 3, 2010 [99 favorites]


If you know where to look, there’s a sort of WikiLeaks of secret deals...

There's a website exposing the backroom, occasionally immoral insider retail conversations that result in coupons? ZEITGEIST REFERENCE FAIL: 10 DEMERITS.

[Obligatory reference to Cletus' "300 pretzels" quote.]
posted by griphus at 9:30 AM on December 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


As recently as five years ago, it would have taken years of dedicated trial and error for consumers to develop these techniques on their own.

Pretty sure dealnews.com was around more than 5 years ago.

And coupon-clippers snatching up loss-leaders and frustrating retailers has been a staple of "news" before it was delivered on electrons.
posted by DU at 9:32 AM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


The dreaded Coupon Cabal!
posted by airgirl at 9:38 AM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I regularly get books at 50%-70% off retail by just waiting for and using borders coupons and the borders' plus membership program. There's just so much savings that there's no reason not to. And with free shipping on borders.com via borders plus ($20/yr) makes getting one-off books cheaper (though a tad slower) than Amazon.
posted by yeoz at 9:38 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Shapiro’s take-no-prisoners approach to shopping is, on one level, a holdover from his profession: He makes his living as “director of logistics and intelligence” for Congregational Security, a Dallas-based firm that specializes in protecting places of worship from terrorism and financial crimes. Shapiro’s job, as he describes it, is to analyze threats. He speaks Hindi, Hebrew, and Arabic, which he uses to scan online message boards frequented by al Qaeda. He says he has worked with former Mossad officers to train parking lot greeters and arranged for bomb-sniffing dogs to scour the hotels of visiting foreign dignitaries. Most of this work happens at a desk a few feet from a rumpled Ikea bed in his parents’ ranch house in suburban Dallas, a life that seems equal parts James Bond and Seth Rogen. “I get to play with cool toys, and I get to learn,” says Shapiro, who has received training in 9-millimeter combat shooting and tactical driving maneuvers. “My job is about being prepared.”

Because most directors for security firms spend their spare time renting out porta pottis...
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:39 AM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, that set off my bullshit detector too.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:41 AM on December 3, 2010


I regularly get books for free at the library, where "free" means "I ♥ taxes".
posted by DU at 9:43 AM on December 3, 2010 [28 favorites]


frustrating retailers

And thus the game will be changed or discontinued.

When you based a product/service off it being "too good to be true," don't be surprised if someone uses it that way.

Pretty sure dealnews.com was around more than 5 years ago.

Wasn't a social-shopping-deals site called Mercado (is Mertado related?) launched back in like 1998?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:44 AM on December 3, 2010


It's so funny for me to see this story over and over again. Yes, the process has changed slightly because of the internet, but I guarantee you people have been doing this since the existence of coupons. My mom did this in the early 80s out of absolute necessity. We wouldn't have eaten if it weren't for her ability to get a month's worth of groceries for less than $30. It was the norm for us to spend less than $5 for $60 worth of groceries (a damn lot of stuff in 1983).
posted by peep at 9:44 AM on December 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


That's pretty nuts. All the coupons I've ever seen say "Limit one per customer" and "May not be combined with any other offer/discount/coupon".
posted by emeiji at 9:46 AM on December 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


The best way to save money is still to buy only what you need, buy quality, and keep things for a long long time. Still I get it, it's the thrill of the chase. Godspeed, just don't tie up the register in front of me, please.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:47 AM on December 3, 2010 [15 favorites]


says John Morgan, executive director of the Association of Coupon Professionals. “They dance all over the rules. These zealots may be following the letter of the law, but I don’t think they’re respecting its spirit.”

BA HA HA HA HAHA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAHAHAHAHAHAHA HHA HA HA HA AH HA HAH HHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Oh that's rich.
posted by spicynuts at 9:47 AM on December 3, 2010 [51 favorites]


This post reminded me to close out my account with DealSwarm (new Groupon-type coupon service) and unsubscribe from their emails, so thanks. For me, the way to win this shopping game is not to buy as much stuff (except with taxes, point to DU). It saves me money, time not spent looking for bargains, and clutter in my life and inbox that I don't have to clean up.
posted by immlass at 9:47 AM on December 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


Warning: Retail hacking can be a full-time job.

See, that's the issue isn't it? Retailers count on you not having the time to put everything together and figure that you're too rushed to finesse the discounts. Most people don't have the time and/or initiative to get all of the available discounts.
posted by octothorpe at 9:48 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's just so much savings that there's no reason not to.

Since the advent of the Clipper Card, I can now take BART all around the SF Bay (up to $8.60 value) for $2.

Sometimes I feel a little dirty, but there's just so much savings that there's no reason not to.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:49 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


the way to win this shopping game is not to buy as much stuff (except with taxes, point to DU). It saves me money, time not spent looking for bargains, and clutter in my life and inbox that I don't have to clean up.

This. Another way of looking at that article is: "this job requires 12 hours a day to find, combine, and take advantage of coupons/deals in order to get X amount of stuff." My job, on the other hand has similar results, but I only have to work eight hours a day, and I get health insurance as well.
posted by nushustu at 9:55 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


They dance all over the rules. These zealots may be following the letter of the law, but I don’t think they’re respecting its spirit.

That's exactly what I said when I caught my bank manipulating the order of checks cleared to maximize bounced check fees. Apparently there are two sets of rules, only one of which may be danced upon. I say, let's everybody dance!
posted by paulina961 at 9:59 AM on December 3, 2010 [32 favorites]


It's worth noting that, as emeiji mentions, a lot of these "super coupon deals" are technically prohibited by the terms of the coupons themselves.

Many self-styled coupon warriors get their deals by badgering the cashier into accepting the coupons, regardless of the coupon rules. Often with high-pressure tactics like shopping at peak times, thus ensuring a line of fidgety customers stacks up behind you.

I understand the allure of buying $200 worth of groceries for only $32 plus coupons. And believe me, I know what it means to be on a very tight food budget.

Still, though. You have to be an asshole to get a lot of these stacked-coupon discounts to happen.

Just throwing it out there: If you are an American who is couponing like crazy because it's the only way you can get by, check out your state's food assistance program. You might well qualify. And that's what it's for - to help people who are living on the borderline of food insecurity.

in Washington State, for example, the threshold for food assistance is $1,805 for a single person, up to $4,299 for a family of 5.
posted by ErikaB at 10:05 AM on December 3, 2010 [15 favorites]


Good for them - anybody that keeps the retail industry on their toes is providing a social good. But damn that sounds like more work than I want to do.

On the other hand, nushutsu, that's easy for you and I to say. We have the option of investing our time in our jobs and getting a better return on it than just saving big money on groceries. But as the middle class becomes increasingly disenfranchised, there's an awful lot of people for whom this probably is one of the best available investments of their time and energy.
posted by Naberius at 10:06 AM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I loves me some Slickdeals. And the library.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:16 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not a full time job to click on slickdeals.com or fatwallet.com. Every day, before I hit mefi, I scan those two for any deals I'm interested in. I believe you can set up alerts for products you are interested in, so you don't even have to check the sites manually. The amount of money I've saved via those two websites is phenomenal -sometimes on crap I actually need.

Also, I shop often at both Aldi's and Trader Joe's [same company, somewhat different product line] and the local "butcher shop" [an independent, family owned, full-line, grocery store] for paper goods and basic foodstuffs. None of which I need coupons for.

The rest of food shopping is done at farmer's markets and local hippie stores. I only go to major retailers for emergency/party needs [and pay dearly for the convenience!].

If you want to make shopping into a full-time job, go ahead, but it sure as heck doesn't have to be!
posted by ill13 at 10:16 AM on December 3, 2010


One thing learned from an early life in customer service is that many retailers will happily accept any coupon you present to them, regardless of expiration date, no badgering or extra conversation required. It's just another beep! at the register as the coupon is scanned. If they don't, then they don't. And I'd hope that anyone on food assistance would be wise enough to continue the practice of couponing like crazy.
posted by dantsea at 10:19 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know - people regularly send me grab a deal offers which are very good value for money but still mostly for stuff that I wouldn't have bought in the first place. Just because something's cheaper that what everybody else would pay for it doesn't mean you actually need to buy it.
posted by Treefood at 10:19 AM on December 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


frustrating retailers

How difficult is it to put "cannot be combined with any other offer" on your coupons and advertisements? Am I missing something?

Also, what emeiji said.

Is there a big disconnect between Canada and the US in terms of coupons? Because it seems like here we pretty much never see this type of thing.

Sure, on boxing day stuff gets discounted pretty deeply in some stores, but you can't expect to get your 10% membership discount on top of that or bring in your 3 month old $20 off $100 coupon and expect it to stack.
posted by ODiV at 10:20 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Many self-styled coupon warriors get their deals by badgering the cashier into accepting the coupons, regardless of the coupon rules.

Is that possible in this day and age? When I worked as a cashier you just scanned the coupon and the register decided for you if it was valid or not. And that was 1994.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:21 AM on December 3, 2010


Also, I invented "GetHuman.com" like 10 years ago when automated lines became common. Except my method was (and is) to just mash the keypad and/or speak gibberish until it sent me to an operator.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:24 AM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Naberius, I don't disagree with you at all, and I really don't mean to disparage any of these people. My sarcasm or whatever comes from an attitude that I've seen from lots of people who do things like this, whether it's coupon doubling or selling old items on ebay. A lot of times I hear people singing the praises of these kinds of systems as great ways to save money, and I truly think it's debatable. That they save money isn't in doubt. That they're great ways to save money is.

If it takes several hours every day in order to do this, then it's not just a money-saving technique, it's an occupation. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is kind of the definition of a dead-end job, in that there is no possibility of upward movement, vacations, raises, bonuses, etc. etc.

Some of the people in that article have broken out of that paradigm a little bit: the one who moderates the coupon site, for example. But for most of these people, and many of them who are clearly intelligent, hard-working, and good with numbers, I would imagine it would be difficult to figure out a way to turn this into something else later on. It's not like "Super-Saver" is something you can put on a resume.

Again, I'm not really trying to knock these people; I've had times where coupons allowed me to eat. But there comes a point where to make substantial savings seems to get out of whack with diminishing returns.
posted by nushustu at 10:24 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]



Is it just me, or does this whole thing reek of a bunch of dimwitted suckers getting conned into buying a bunch of shit they don't need? Coupons are marketing tools, you tools.
posted by aquafortis at 10:24 AM on December 3, 2010 [12 favorites]


Is it any worse than playing World of Warcraft? Except you have a pile of real junk at the end of the day.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:31 AM on December 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


On a related note - some stores offer big inducements on the first purchase if you sign up for their store charge card (which just happens to have a 24% interest rate). We've only ever capitalized on this deal once, when a retailer offered 20% off of your first purchase for signing up, and we happened to be in the market for a new vacuum cleaner. We immediately bought a brand-name vacuum by that english guy, that NEVER goes on sale, as well as another never-discounted small appliance, to a total of about $800. As soon as we got the bill we paid it off and cut up the card.

To us, that was a sucker bet that they lost, to the tune of about $160, but I guess that not having ANY store cards, and only two VISA cards between us, and never carrying a balance makes us... wierd. or Anti-capitalist. Or something. The company did fold up about a year later.

Other than that, we seldom clip coupons or line up for some insane sale... it's just too much hassle. Also, being middle-aged, we really don't need more 'stuff'
posted by Artful Codger at 10:33 AM on December 3, 2010


That said, there's a thrill of the hunt aspect that keeps people latched to Ebay and coupon sites and trolling Amazon for mismarked prices, and so on. But there's hobby, and then there's obsession, and the obsessed go at it with the belief that they have been wronged if the hours they spent finding a deal fails to land them the object of their momentary desire.

A couple weeks ago, on an audiophilia board I frequent, somebody posted a link to a third-party sale on buy.com: AKG K702 headphones for $80-something.

These are headphones that rarely, if ever, sell for less than $250; Around $300 is common among authorized retailers.

Needless to say, there was a pile-on. The thread went nuts as people speculated on who was selling them, why they were selling below wholesale, and so on. Skeptics were mocked. Flame wars broke out regarding the legitimacy.

This all went down on Saturday and Sunday. Every time the seller's inventory zeroed out, it would replenish within a few minutes and the feeding frenzy began again. The justification being in part that it's morally right to allow oneself to exploit a company's ruinous fuckup, but also because buy.com has listed above-board markdowns on this scale in the past, so of course it was for real this time too. People were buying multiple sets, just to make a little extra money for themselves, which wound down the stock even faster.

In the modern age of automated commerce, this was all accommodated gracefully by buy.com and the third-party merchant listing there.

On Sunday night, the seller began trying to cancel and refund orders as fast as it could. Shipments were recalled, even those en-route. The seller was an online merchant arm of the company that owns a legitimate, major music equipment retail chain. The company is an authorized AKG reseller, but they don't stock the K702; somebody had mis-entered the SKU when they wrote the listing, and buy.com's sales mechanism automatically attached the image and product description for the K702 headphones to the price for the M99 headphones that the company was selling. (This trickled upstream, so that for a while Google Shopper associated the $80 M99's price and image to the $250 K702's description and SKU.)

Buyers were rueful. Some were angry for having been conned out of their money for a weekend, even though they got it all back. Some believed this was a PR ploy to drive the vendor's business, despite the obvious bad will that misrepresenting a sale would engender. The thread fizzled out, thankfully, with a sales representative of the vendor posting contact info for anybody who needed further assistance or refunds.
posted by ardgedee at 10:33 AM on December 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Is there a big disconnect between Canada and the US in terms of coupons? Because it seems like here we pretty much never see this type of thing.

I think there must be, because I find coupons in Canada to be a little sparse. I have bought SUTP or Entertainment coupon books in the past, but this will be my last year buying an SUTP. The coupon for Chili's is only good for the Banff location, the Ricky's coupons are only good at the far south location, etc. Not great deals! But there are a lot of sites like Red Flag Deals and SmartCanucks.ca that I check.

I love working coupons when I can find them. We recently had a half price dinner at Perkin's and I can often wrangle cheaper dinners at Swiss Chalet just by filling out the surveys. Michaels - same thing - when they had a coupon bonanza last summer, I managed to work the system into getting a lot of things for half off just by noticing that the sales on certain things alternated every week.

At the local Shopper's Drug Mart it's easy to get free things due to the Scanning Code of Practice (if the item scans incorrectly, you can get it for free up to a point) because they suck at keeping their inventory and shelf signs straight. I dunno - I'm never a jerkette about these things and would never dream of badgering a cashier - but paying attention has a lot of rewards :-)
posted by Calzephyr at 10:34 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Artful Codger, opening an additional new credit line makes a ding in your credit rating.
posted by NortonDC at 10:35 AM on December 3, 2010


Another way of looking at that article is: "this job requires 12 hours a day to find, combine, and take advantage of coupons/deals in order to get X amount of stuff." My job, on the other hand has similar results, but I only have to work eight hours a day, and I get health insurance as well.

A lot of couponing sites are run and frequented by "mommies" who want to be able to stay home with their kids, and there are not many other work from home opportunities that are legitimate and lucrative, outside of a limited number of occupations where telecommuting is the norm. Rather than this being a dead-end job for them, it is an opportunity to be at home with their kids and avoid daycare costs. Probably a significant number get their health coverage through their husband's job.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:37 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe it depends on the store where you shop. At the Safeway where I regularly shop, their register system is clever enough to understand when you can and cannot combine coupons.

About once every six months I get stuck behind a Coupon Situation. This happens when someone attempts to use a giant fistful of coupons, some of them contradictory. When the register refuses to accept them, the approach is to berate the cashier until they either manually override and accept the coupons, or push back hard enough that the customer leaves in a very loud huff.

These coupons all do, if you read them carefully, say "not to be combined with other offers." I have yet to find one that doesn't. Having been raised by lawyers, I always scrutinize the fine print carefully.

But perhaps the key is to shop at stores where the register system is too dumb to do multifactorial coupon parsing. But at least in some cases I have seen - and according to a few people I've talked to - the next-level use of coupons is more an exercise in social engineering than tracking deals.

Which is fine, but let's at least be honest about it.
posted by ErikaB at 10:38 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find all my discounts via MetaFilter.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:43 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Many self-styled coupon warriors get their deals by badgering the cashier into accepting the coupons, regardless of the coupon rules. Often with high-pressure tactics like shopping at peak times, thus ensuring a line of fidgety customers stacks up behind you.

I understand the allure of buying $200 worth of groceries for only $32 plus coupons. And believe me, I know what it means to be on a very tight food budget.

Still, though. You have to be an asshole to get a lot of these stacked-coupon discounts to happen.


I wouldn't call myself a "coupon warrior" by any stretch, but its not at all unusual for me to get $200 (shelf price) of groceries (and no, I'm not buying weird processed foods, I promise) for under $40. I can't say that I've ever badgered a cashier or been an asshole to do it, or seen anyone else do that. I just wait until things are on sale, use coupons in combination with the sale at stores that double coupons, and am willing to do multiple transactions in order to maximize my ability to use coupons, get "rewards" coupons (sometimes called Catalinas, after the marketing firm that produces them), and use rebates.

Coupons often say "one coupon per purchase" which every retailer in the world interprets as "one coupon per item" (ie: I buy five packages of frozen veggies, and can use five coupons, one for each package).

Yes, the process has changed slightly because of the internet, but I guarantee you people have been doing this since the existence of coupons.

I disagree. Its a lot easier now to go to a site like afullcup.com where they basically crowdsource the work and you can just print off a shopping list for your local store complete with coupon matchups. Also, the ability to purchase coupons (yep, I purchase coupons) from clipping services is a great boon. Grocery coupons are published regionally, so here in New England we might get a coupon for, say .50 off two packages of flour, while in the South or mid-Atlantic region that same retailer might be offering a .75 off 1 package of flour coupon. I personally limit my weekly spending on coupon purchases to what I would pay for one copy of the Sunday paper ($1.75), and for that money I get packs of 20 or 30 coupons that are all coupons I'll actually use.

You know, every time couponing comes up here on Metafilter, I'm always shocked at the strong negative reactions people have to it, like we must be doing something illegal or shameful in order to do it. For me, it enables me to save money on basics (flour, sugar, pasta, cheese, rice, bacon, frozen veggies, juice, milk, cereal, shampoo, deodorant, contact lens solution, soap, toothpaste, cleaning supplies) so that I have a much bigger percentage of my grocery budget to spend on organic and natural products, to shop at the farmer's market in the summer, and to generally have my family eat better and healthier. Why does that make people so very angry?
posted by anastasiav at 10:51 AM on December 3, 2010 [26 favorites]


A lot of couponing sites are run and frequented by "mommies" who want to be able to stay home with their kids,

Was it really necessary to put the word mommies in quotes like that? Its really belittling.
posted by anastasiav at 10:52 AM on December 3, 2010 [15 favorites]


For the super grocery discounts ($80 worth of groceries for $1 or whatever), do shoppers just let coupons dictate what they buy and not purchase anything extra? When I receive coupons, they always seem to be for things that I don't really need, so buying them, even with the coupon, would actually be an extra expense.
posted by missix at 10:52 AM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I should clarify that I don't think super-couponers are bad or wrong or making Proctor & Gamble cry. I just get a little irked at what seems to me to be a disingenuous tone.

I gather that there's an unspoken "wink and a nod" appended to each super multi-coupon deal that gets posted to a coupon blog.

The irritable documentation nerd in me wants people to just say "This coupon deal technically isn't viable because it says so on the coupon. But if you take them to store X the register will ring it up without any problem."
posted by ErikaB at 10:55 AM on December 3, 2010


Meh. I did the grocery couponing thing earlier this year.

In the end, I spent a lot of time browsing papers, clipping, cataloging, tossing expired coupons, and didn't save very much money in the end. I also ended up buying far less fresh produce, and a lot more junk food and consumer products that I didn't really need.

These days, I'll briefly glance over the two weekly circulars that my local supermarkets send out, and will stock up if anything I already regularly buy jumps out at me. Usually, this doesn't happen, and I tend to be able to gauge the items that go on sale regularly, and can wait to buy them when they're on sale.

I've also lately taken to going to the "High End" grocer on my bike-ride home from work or the gym, and only buying what only I need to make dinner that night (and possibly the night after if it fits in my messenger bag), because I can buy almost everything loose or by the pound at that store. (Sorry Giant -- I'm never in the position to need 5lbs of broccoli at one time). Every now and then, I drive across town to stock up on stuff at Trader Joes.

Using this strategy, I eat (far) better, throw away almost no food, and have cut my overall grocery bill by about 25%. No coupons.
posted by schmod at 10:55 AM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the clarification, anastasiav, you've answered several questions I've always had! I think it comes back to how, just like every population, a few jerks ruin it for everyone else.

I'm sure I've never noticed the dozens of people who carried on a quiet and calm coupon-related transaction. But I sure noticed, e.g. the woman two weeks ago, who literally stomped her foot on the ground, demanded that the cashier accept all the coupons, then stormed out, leaving the poor cashier visibly shaken.
posted by ErikaB at 10:59 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


For the super grocery discounts ($80 worth of groceries for $1 or whatever), do shoppers just let coupons dictate what they buy and not purchase anything extra?

The trick is to do what's called "stockpiling". For example: At my local supermarket there is a big sale on baking supplies right now, in including large packages of Gold Medal flour for $1.49. I have in hand coupons that are for .75 off 1 Gold Medal, and my supermarket as a matter of policy doubles every coupon under .99 cents. (They will only double six "like" coupons per shopping trip.) So, at some point this week I'll go in with my 24 coupons and buy 24 packages of flour for free, by getting six, taking them to the car, coming back in and getting six more.

Some weeks there are five items I want to stockpile, some weeks just one, some weeks none. But I buy a year's supply of things that have a good sale/coupon matchup when I get the chance, and then don't have to buy any more all year.

Which basically means that my "extra" is often limited to milk, some meat, and fresh veggies - weekly total under $20 for my family of three -- because my pantry is already well stocked with the staples we need to turn those perishables into actual food.
posted by anastasiav at 10:59 AM on December 3, 2010 [6 favorites]



About once every six months I get stuck behind a Coupon Situation.

Interesting post and thoughts and timing. In the last few days I've been right behind a couple of those situations. The plural of anecdote is not data and all that, but those experiences were similar to what ErikaB mentioned, at least in the sense that the people came across as having zero, zilch and nil regard for anyone but themselves.

Fair play that people are buying lots of things with lots of coupons, but I wondered if it was more than coincidence that both of 'em were proceeding really slowly, rummaging around for things, etc., generally acting they they had no regard for anyone but themselves.
posted by ambient2 at 11:07 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


anastasiav, you've answered several questions I've always had! I think it comes back to how, just like every population, a few jerks ruin it for everyone else.

You're welcome, and I agree with you about the jerks. However, the jerks are not all on the customer side of the checkout line. Not to defend the jerky woman you saw (because I bet if it hadn't been the coupons she would have been a jerk about something else) but every supermarket in the world has a written, published coupon acceptance policy but they don't always educate their staff/management in that policy.

So, for example, Target's coupon policy explicitly says "you can use one Target-only coupon and one Manufacturer's coupon on an item." However, coupon boards have reports all the time of clerks -- often, I think, seasonal employees who were not well trained -- of clerks who refuse to take a Target coupon + a Manf coupon on an item, often despite the customer having the website printout of Target, Inc's coupon policy right in hand.

I myself recently had a situation where I had a coupon for .50 off 1 of a product, and another coupon for "buy five get one free" for the same product. This is not a double dip, because it says nowhere on the "buy five" coupon that I have to buy five at full price. The checkout person said "you can't use these" and I said "sure I can". We went back and forth in that way for a minute, but then I asked her to call over a manager, who immediately said "of course she can" and educated the clerk about why it wasn't a double dip.

I'm sorry one angry woman gave you a bad impression of all of us, though.
posted by anastasiav at 11:08 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Was it really necessary to put the word mommies in quotes like that? Its really belittling.

In this instance, I think so. The vast, vast majority of couponing sites that I've encountered obnoxiously assume that you're a mother with a gaggle of small children around you. I find it sexist and obnoxious. Us single dudes need to save on groceries too!

This annoys me almost as much as the commercials for household products. I don't know how it worked in other families, but the men in our house always did the bulk of the cleaning and dishwashing, because it was generally accepted that the women were better cooks, and that we'd share the work evenly. The cooking wasn't necessarily a sexist thing -- my mom comes from a family of amazing cooks, while my dad grew up on TV dinners. They stuck to what they were good at...

The fact that you never see these products even vaguely marketed toward men is unbelievably offensive. Although I could turn this into an argument about deconstructing traditional gender roles (ie. stay-at-home Dads), that's not even necessary -- my family was about as 'traditional' as they come, and those stupid commercials never applied to us. It's almost as if the household product industry is stuck in the 1950s -- the role of the "housewife" barely exists in even the most conservative of households today.

*steps off of soapbox*


Perhaps I'm overreacting, but it really does bother me that these sites have conflated 'couponing' with 'stuff moms do.' I don't mind that the blog authors add a bit of "personal flavor" to their sites, but they really don't need to deliberately restrict their audience like they currently do.
posted by schmod at 11:10 AM on December 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Was it really necessary to put the word mommies in quotes like that? Its really belittling.

Sorry, I didn't mean it that way. It's just that a lot of online stay-at-home moms of young children refer to themselves that way, but it's not a word I'd generally use myself to describe someone, hence the quotes. I guess I could have just said mothers, but I was thinking of the mommy bloggers & couponers at the time so that's what came out.

I was a stay-at-home mom myself at one time, so I'm definitely not trying to be condescending.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:12 AM on December 3, 2010


I loved the use of the scrum metaphor in the article thanks to agile Kiwis are no longer alone in using rugby terms.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 11:13 AM on December 3, 2010


Perhaps I'm overreacting, but it really does bother me that these sites have conflated 'couponing' with 'stuff moms do.'

I totally agree with you there. I got a coupon in the mail a few weeks ago from Proctor and Gamble for a laundry product, where their pitch line was "So easy even Dad can use it!" and wrote them an angry email -- my husband does all the laundry in our house, why on earth would they think in 2010 only women do the wash? I actually haven't bought their product since, because I was so irked at the sexism in their ad.
posted by anastasiav at 11:16 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Previously
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:20 AM on December 3, 2010


I'm all for sticking it to the man, but this infuriated me:

“The total is $1.77,” Jennifer says. “You saved $78.15.” Harrison pays, scrutinizes the receipt, and then picks up her bags and walks over to the customer service counter. The red bell pepper, priced at $1.99, has erroneously rung up at $2.79 plus tax. Harrison explains this error to Michael W., who, per Harris Teeter policy, reaches into the drawer and gives her a $2.85 cash refund.
posted by letitrain at 11:20 AM on December 3, 2010


Eh, I activated a satellite radio recently, and after I'd signed up I started receiving offers for much better signup deals than I exercised. Not just one that crossed in the mail, either -- I've been getting them for a few months now. Every time I get one of those mailings, I feel a pang of regret at making the purchase without a discount.

So I'm not at all surprised that some folks have gotten frustrated with knowing there might be a better deal out there. That's why it has become akin to selling a car to these folks -- the car-buying experience is what it is solely because prices aren't fixed, and people hate knowing there might have been a better deal available. With big-ticket items like cars, it was worth it to put in the legwork, but less so with consumer goods. The internet, then, just made the legwork significantly easier, bring the net effort in line with the net reward.

Essentially, the system works. People who want the most convenient purchasing experience will take that route (I had a grandfather-in-law who leased the newest Cadillac over and over every two years, at sticker price) and people who want the best price will take the time to find it. The only solution for retailers, then, is to offer the same price to everyone. Last time I checked, that model worked really, really well for Apple, and I find it hard to believe they're the only ones who can pull it off.
posted by davejay at 11:22 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


People have said in various ways that the rules of the coupon game have changed. You betcha. I am old enough to remember when coupons had a net cash value each, which is why you commonly see the words "no cash value" on coupons even to this day.

This ended probably at or near the end of the 1960s. Each coupon was worth something like 3 mills (.003), or a little over 300 coupons to a dollar. Like bottle returns, stores tried to limit how many coupons you could redeem in a day, but I can remember my mom and some other moms getting together and doing this group collecting stuff. They'd go to the newsstand on late Sunday or early Monday and buy up the leftover Sunday newspapers. In those days, they tore the front masthead off the Sunday newspaper so that it couldn't be sold for its face value—big deal!—all they wanted was the coupons.

Then they'd sit around drinking coffee and sort coupons into ones they would use and ones they wouldn't. Obviously, it was a better deal to get 5 cents off of a can of peas than to get a third of a cent in cash.

The coupons noone would use for product were redeemed for cash at the store. Occasionally, a store would get huffy about it, but there were printed instructions on the coupon to redeem it for that specified cash value.

In a roundabout way, that's how my brother & his wife got together. My mom was a Super Couponer of her day, and my s-i-l's mom was the head cashier at the store. They became friends, which led to my brother getting hired at that store, and the rest is herstory.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:24 AM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Where I live in Brooklyn, there's a Food Bazaar, a good company that specializes in putting grocery stores in neighborhoods where there usually aren't any. But they don't have catalinas, reward cards and the circulars just tell you what the sales are. No store coupons, no doubling.

So, my question is, how does someone who doesn't live in the suburbs and have a car do this? Or is this something you need access to multiple grocery stores to do? I'd really like to be able to do this, but the assumptions behind this practice, that anyone can do it, show a certain amount of blindness. (I'm not food insecure, but I'm sure there are people on my block who are.)

That's not to say that I don't think that their donating their food to pantries or disadvantaged families isn't great, but this feels like a solidly middle class thing.
posted by Hactar at 11:24 AM on December 3, 2010


Oh, and all the coupon-clippers in the world are fine by me, no matter how inconvenient, compared to the Black Friday idiots who end up trampling other people. I cannot fathom how people can be so morally bankrupt that getting a $50 discount on some widget is more important than not hurting people.
posted by davejay at 11:28 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Between Steam sales and various Amazon affiliates, I haven't paid more than $15 for a computer game in years (Portal 2 will probably change that). And I still have dozens of great games on my hard drive I haven't played yet and a few more I haven't even installed yet. It's called stockpiling.
posted by straight at 11:28 AM on December 3, 2010


I've such a savy shopper that it only cost me $5 to read this post!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:29 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


there were printed instructions on the coupon to redeem it for that specified cash value.

Why would they do that? Is this so, if they can't deliver the goods on the coupon as intended, their liability is only $0.003? Why $0.003?
posted by grouse at 11:33 AM on December 3, 2010


I've such a savy shopper that it only cost me $5 to read this post!

You joined when MeFi memberships were still free.
posted by grouse at 11:33 AM on December 3, 2010


Oh, and yeah, this was way before the scanners would automatically tally things up. The coupons had to be checked for expiration and cash value--though the cash value rarely changed despite the differing values of the cents-off. That was how my mom & the store's head cashier got to be friends. She'd have this stack of coupons & a line growing behind, so the cashiers started just sending her to the service desk, and eventually, my mom would just give a fat envelope of coupons to Mrs. B, and Mrs. B. would bring her back an envelope of cash.

They stopped that offering around the time copy machines got better. Even though coupons still carried cash value, you had to mail them back to the manufacturer along with your name, address, etc. and they started to clamp down on the process, b/c obviously, the product was not being bought, and that was the point of the coupon, innit?
posted by beelzbubba at 11:35 AM on December 3, 2010


For any coupon fanatics: which site would you be checking for only current online coupons? I do a search for something like "amazon coupon" and I get 2,672 sites, most of which seem to have expired coupons.

I don't shop based on coupons but whenever I get to a shopping cart online and see it has a 'coupon code' box I'm like, hm, what am I missing?
posted by maxwelton at 11:37 AM on December 3, 2010


Another way of looking at that article is: "this job requires 12 hours a day to find, combine, and take advantage of coupons/deals in order to get X amount of stuff

If only we had some sort of machine that could automate such a task.
posted by ryoshu at 11:40 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


For example: At my local supermarket there is a big sale on baking supplies right now, in including large packages of Gold Medal flour for $1.49. I have in hand coupons that are for .75 off 1 Gold Medal, and my supermarket as a matter of policy doubles every coupon under .99 cents.

This totally blows my mind. How difficult is it for them to say "coupons apply to full price items only"? How is it that Canadian retailers seem to have figured this out, but not American? Or is there some other difference I'm missing? I guess I'm just mystified at the (erroneous?) impression of the helpless retailer losing money because of those crafty coupon cutters.

I cannot fathom how people can be so morally bankrupt that getting a $50 discount on some widget is more important than not hurting people.

Call me a dick, but this sounds pretty much like what living in the first world and participating in the economy entails.
posted by ODiV at 11:44 AM on December 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


I guess I don't work it in that respect, but there are things we need, that I intentionally wait until they go on sale to purchase. Some common items we tend to buy a certain brand, and between the major supermarket chains, one of them usually has it on sale.

I think the only coupon issue I had was at a Wal-mart that I had a coupon for a DVD, and being the release week, they had it on sale as well. Apparently it had gone off-sale at midnight the previous day, but no-one had updated the price on the displays. So I thought it was too much, and the cashier started to hem and haw until I pointed to the floor display 10 feet away with the advertised price still on it. He gave me the price, but not before walking over to the display and taking down the price.

Although a few years back my wife wanted a certain machine for her scrapbooking. It was very popular, but ran about $300. way more than I would have ever bought it for. Well, black friday rolls around and the local fabric chain runs an coupon for 50% off one item before 9 am on Black Friday. We scrutinized the coupon, and it looked legit, so we bought it for $150. Apparently a lot of people did that becuase the next time they printed any coupons, this machine was listed as exception to any discount.
posted by Badgermann at 11:46 AM on December 3, 2010


How dare that woman follow a store's policy and get her refund. Why, that should be against the law!
posted by dantsea at 11:50 AM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


And if thou gaze long into an coupon, the coupon will also gaze into thee.
posted by benzenedream at 12:00 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


This totally blows my mind. How difficult is it for them to say "coupons apply to full price items only"? How is it that Canadian retailers seem to have figured this out, but not American? Or is there some other difference I'm missing? I guess I'm just mystified at the (erroneous?) impression of the helpless retailer losing money because of those crafty coupon cutters.

Coupons exist to move product. There is no "loss" for the retailer in accepting a coupon issued by the manufacturer, because it says right there in the tiny print "RETAILER: [Manufacturer] will reimburse you the face value of this coupon, plus 8 cents, if submitted in compliance with our redemption policy, available upon request." So the local supermarket gets the value of the coupon plus a little bit when they accept my coupon.

In my case, the local retailer wants to entice me to come in and use my coupons there, so they offer to double my coupons (up to .99 cents) in hopes that I'll also spend my money on some of their (overpriced) other products. For me, that doesn't work. For some other shoppers, I bet it works.
posted by anastasiav at 12:02 PM on December 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


My mom was (is) a super couponer all my life. We used to joke that she would buy canned lark tongues if they were on sale and she had a coupon.

I tried, and just never got into it. The products were never things I wanted, and I was always leaving them in the car or on the counter or whatever. At one point in college I figured out that by buying name brands only when on sale (and store brands for everything else) I was saving more money with less hassle. Not sure if that's changed these days, but now I figure my time is worth more than that anyway.
posted by JoanArkham at 12:06 PM on December 3, 2010


I like a deal as much as the next guy but a lot of this sounds like too much work to me. Also (and I don't know if it's intentional, or what) the article discusses people who spend full-time-hours kind of time on their effort to save money, and the one guy who has a job is described as early 30's and still living with his parents. Doesn't leave you with the impression that this sort of lifestyle is desirable, does it? It's like the author decided specifically to profile people who make this approach look seedy and (pardon the pun) cheap, rather than people who do this because they can't afford to save any money otherwise or the apparent hordes of people the article was supposedly about, those who use Groupon or whatever for a quick one-off deal now and then.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:07 PM on December 3, 2010


"So, for example, Target's coupon policy explicitly says "you can use one Target-only coupon and one Manufacturer's coupon on an item." However, coupon boards have reports all the time of clerks -- often, I think, seasonal employees who were not well trained -- of clerks who refuse to take a Target coupon + a Manf coupon on an item, often despite the customer having the website printout of Target, Inc's coupon policy right in hand."

Oh, motherfuck, lemme bitch about Target and coupons for a second.

My girlfriend and I had bought a Pur water filter at Target. The water filter was defective, and because they didn't offer that model any more, they sent us a coupon for any model we wanted, up to $55. We found a pretty good approximation, which wasn't the most pricey model they had, but the one that worked for us. We went and checked out.

First, the cashier couldn't get the coupon to work because it wasn't for any specific item, and that Target doesn't take coupons like this. Yeah, sure, but… it's from the manufacturer, the sign right over your head says that you take all manufacturer's coupons, and you don't have the old item any more because it's defective.

So, the manager comes out. We have to go to a different register, and wait, and wait, and then the shift manager comes out. She can't get the coupon to work with the register. It's been fifteen minutes, and I'm starting to feel like, y'know, fuck it, we can walk out with this and let them deal with how they want to ring it up. But instead we wait. My girlfriend gets walked on by a cockatoo, which belongs to the poor woman behind us.

After us being told that she just can't accept the coupon, and my asking to see someone who has the authority to do that, the front of house manager gets called out. He's a big, beefy dude who looks like an ex-linesman. He's popping out of the red polo shirt like he's going to hulk out at any moment. We go through the rigamarole again. He starts telling me that they can't take the coupon because they have no way to get paid back for it from the manufacturer. He keeps saying, "As a businessman, you have to understand that."

My point is this: The register says that it simply needs manager approval. How Target gets paid back for the manufacturer coupon isn't my concern, though I'm certain a mechanism exists. Both Target and Proctor and Gamble are huge companies and this can't be the first time that Target's had to honor a manufacturer coupon. The item that we bought prior, that we're replacing, is no longer sold, so we can't just get a new one, and the coupon says it's for any system up to $55, and Target has clear signage that says they accept these coupons.

We get to the point where he's just telling me that no one can do it, that it's impossible, that he won't do it because it would be the same as us stealing from him.

"I asked to speak with someone who had the authority to authorize this," I tell him.

"There's no one. That person does not exist. No one has the power to authorize this," he says.

"Really? No one in the company can say that you're going to honor this coupon and sort out the details on your end? No one?"

"No one at Target."

"Well," I say, "You clearly don't have the power. What phone number do I call to speak to your supervisor?"

My girlfriend's freaking out because she doesn't like confrontation, but fuck, I've been trying to check out of Target for a good half an hour now, and I want my goddamn water filter and I'm not going to let some thick-neck asshole bully me out of getting it.

He won't give me any direct number for his supervisors, he only gives me the 1-800 number for Target, the broadest number they have. I wait through the phone trees, I muddle through the counter-intuitive menus, going through Returns and then Customer Experience, though neither's really what I want. I finally reach some guy with a thick Indian accent who asks for my information about three times—he has a hard time understanding me, I have a hard time understanding his replies—all while the manager sits there scowling at me. I tell "William" what happened, he asks a few questions, then asks to speak to the manager. At this point, I find out that the manager's name is JD ("No, Jay Dee. No. they're initials. No, Jay Dee"). JD starts giving the same argument, then gets quiet. Yeah, they've tried keying it in. Yeah, but… Yeah… But how do they get paid…" "I just submit it?"

JD pushes my phone back to me across the counter, keys in the code, and I hang up on William without thinking about it. Then JD says, "Oh, he still wanted to talk to you." After a moment of watching the rest of the transaction, he walks off. He does not apologize. Neither does the other supervisor who was the one who finally charged me my $3.30 (still had to pay tax!).

Fuck that Target, fuck Target, fuck JD and fuck everyone involved aside from William doing phone center work in some subcontinental region that we've outsourced all our competence and courtesy to.
posted by klangklangston at 12:11 PM on December 3, 2010 [26 favorites]


Oh, yeah, and I tried to call and complain and got put on hold for 10 minutes before I hung up. I will do everything in my power to avoid going there for anything (especially with their politics), and if I am there, I will make it my personal mission to shoplift anything I can.
posted by klangklangston at 12:13 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


anastasiav: Yeah, I can dig all that, I'm just wondering what the difference is. There seems to be a stronger current of "get more for your money" in the US that leads to things like this and eg. crazy portion sizes in restaurants. Maybe they're related. Maybe Canadian retailers aren't under the same kind of pressure to attract customers, at least in my neck of the woods, or maybe Canadians aren't attracted in the same way.

It could also be that I'm not aware of the similar deals that would be available to me.
posted by ODiV at 12:16 PM on December 3, 2010


Fair play that people are buying lots of things with lots of coupons, but I wondered if it was more than coincidence that both of 'em were proceeding really slowly, rummaging around for things, etc., generally acting they they had no regard for anyone but themselves.

This seems like reading a lot into someone else's lack of dispatch. It's a universal fact of life that grocery shopping involves waiting for inefficient people.
posted by palliser at 12:20 PM on December 3, 2010


Half the time I'm grocery shopping with my wife I have to remind myself that she wants to shop together for the company and not so we can split the gathering up so we can get out of there as quickly as possible.
posted by ODiV at 12:24 PM on December 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


For lazy stockpilers, keep an eye on the discount bins after holidays/changes of seasons. Just after easter I picked up some food coloring for 75% off, even though it can be used for more than easter eggs. Ditto with green and red baking-related items after Christmas. The halloween decorations I picked up for a quarter will just fine next year, thanks!
posted by mikepop at 12:25 PM on December 3, 2010


mikepop - true. For several years the wife and I have had green Saran Wrap because it was on sale after the holidays, and that happened to coincide with when we ran out of it. However my mother-in-law is notorious for stocking up on things like Easter candy at the after-holiday sales, and that's the kind of crap you don't want to get a year in advance.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:30 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do this but I don't spend that much time on it.

You get an accordion file. You put your coupon inserts in it. You get yourself some internet coupons and file them however you choose (www.southernsaver.com gives good link and instructions.)

Now find out which store in your area does double coupons. For me, that's Harris Teeter. Usually you will be able to find websites that will help you match up deals to coupons. If you do this right you rarely have to pay for dish soap (or at the most, maybe fifty cents or so) for example. And if you ever buy pillsbury cinnamon rolls or crescent rolls without a coupon you are nuts because the world is way overloaded with them.

The trick is to wait till your item goes on sale then use the (doubled) coupon. Now since I buy a lot of unprocessed food I may not get the savings some of these folks get, but it's thrilling to get four cans of soup for free or get my hot sauce for a quarter at the most. I stockpile stuff I like but can't afford to get full price, and life is good.

I promise you at the most it takes me a couple of hours a week, not counting actual time in the store. Sometimes not even that.

I don't work the drugstores altho from what I hear people really rack up when they do. But I can't see buying stuff I don't need and won't use even if it turns out to be free or next to it, and to work the deals properly you probably need to. So I don't bother. I still have a bathroom full of sale shampoo stockpiled.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2010


My girlfriend gets walked on by a cockatoo, which belongs to the poor woman behind us.

I think you buried the lede...
posted by madajb at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


"The only solution for retailers, then, is to offer the same price to everyone. Last time I checked, that model worked really, really well for Apple, and I find it hard to believe they're the only ones who can pull it off."

Very few can pull that off. If you're selling a commodity item like toilet paper or peanut butter with dozens of manufacturers and tens of thousands of retailers somebody will sell it for less and/or offer a coupon to get your business. Even Apple offers educational discounts which means they don't offer the same price to everyone.
posted by MikeMc at 12:36 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


How is it that Canadian retailers seem to have figured this [couponing thing] out, but not American? Or is there some other difference I'm missing?

I've noticed that we Canadians have resumed doing alot of cross-border shopping. I was asking someone about this, whether it was a tourism thing, or economically worthwhile, and they solemnly shook their head and said that they were often getting up to 75% off of some name-brand stuff in the States, if they picked their sale right. I've also heard that Canadian customs are usually letting us bring back more than the duty-free limit's worth of stuff.

By comparison, Canadian promotions are tepid, though still more common than a few years ago. It's basically a confirmation of how much worse the recession has been in the US compared to Canada, and the extent to which the US retailers have had to go to move stock.
posted by Artful Codger at 12:40 PM on December 3, 2010



Fuck that Target, fuck Target, fuck JD and fuck everyone involved aside from William doing phone center work in some subcontinental region that we've outsourced all our competence and courtesy to.


I just want to say something about outsourcing. You realize that if the call centers were in the US, you'd be dealing with someone less competent than the guy at the call center, who you may trust less because of the accent.

I wish you'd give my credit card company a call. They use an American call center (customer service associates) and while I'm sure "Gina" is a joy to her family and friends, her boredom and apathy regarding my situation was irritating. I realize she thinks this is beneath her or boring and she'd rather be on her cellphone talking about something she cares about than my situation. Apparently, I interrupt her day. But a guy with a sense of mission in India is generally far more professional and helpful than Gina, who is actually mean and would probably use her long fingernails to scratch my face if it came down to it.

BTW, that "subcontinental region" is my homeland, so, I sing, "Jaya he jaya he jaya he/Jaya jaya jaya jaya he!"
posted by anniecat at 12:53 PM on December 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


Very few can pull that off. If you're selling a commodity item like toilet paper or peanut butter with dozens of manufacturers and tens of thousands of retailers somebody will sell it for less and/or offer a coupon to get your business.

Trader Joes. Aldi. Every grocer in Europe.

It's not rocket science. One of the reasons why people love TJ's so much is their "No Bullshit" pricing policy. (Or, hell. Their "no bullshit" approach to business in general. They keep a consistent markup rate across their entire inventory, don't do coupons or loyalty cards, don't play games with shelf positioning, and actually seem to give a damn about hiring friendly employees.)

People beg for Trader Joes to open up in their towns. Can you think of any other chain that has that effect? The supermarket world would do well to think outside of the box, and abandon their traditional tactics of imitating each other.
posted by schmod at 12:55 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


For any coupon fanatics: which site would you be checking for only current online coupons?

For standard stuff I'll often check in at retailmenot.com. I don't know if they have the best deals or anything else, but they've often got discount codes for stuff I'm looking for when I shop [which is almost never] and the site will tell you if the deal is still good.

I'm not a couponer, but I'm lucky enough to have a dented can store near me where stuff is all cheap as heck as long as you don't mind eating soup from a can that says 49 in large sharpie numbers on the side of it.

Agreed, cockatoo is my favorite part of what was already a pretty interesting thread.
posted by jessamyn at 1:06 PM on December 3, 2010


Trader Joes. Aldi. Every grocer in Europe.

The thing about TJ's and Aldi is that 90% of what they sell are their own private label products. That makes pricing things much, much simpler. Sure they may make up a shitload of "brands" (Grandessa, Friendly Farms etc...) but they're not actually different brands, it's all Aldi. Same deal with Trader Joe's (which is an Aldi company IIRC). A lot of people like specific brands, if peanut butter to me means Skippy and only Skippy I'm not shopping Aldi. We buy a number of things at Aldi but there a number of things we bought once from there and will not buy again. Brand loyalty still counts.
posted by MikeMc at 1:09 PM on December 3, 2010


They keep a consistent markup rate across their entire inventory, don't do coupons or loyalty cards, don't play games with shelf positioning, and actually seem to give a damn about hiring friendly employees.

Also, TJ's does accept Manf coupons on the non-TJ's branded items they sell.
posted by anastasiav at 1:20 PM on December 3, 2010


I used to work customer service at Groupon before landing a real job. I recommend not purchasing any daily deal for a Spa or Teeth Whitening. They're mostly scams that shenanigan the customer and Groupon. On the other hand, I got some nice Candles and some Spanish Lessons for cheeps.
posted by Israel Tucker at 1:21 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


My position on couponing is unchanged from the last thread here. The special coupons that print at the register don't exist where I live--no grocery store within 50 miles uses them. Very nearly all the newspaper and web coupons are for packaged, name-brand, generally unhealthy groceries; ie, things I don't buy no matter how cheap they are.

Where are the coupons for fresh meat/poultry/fish, fresh fruit/veggies/beans/nuts/berries, and whole grains, and coupons that work at farmer's markets ?
posted by aerotive at 1:33 PM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Where are the coupons for fresh meat/poultry/fish, fresh fruit/veggies/beans/nuts/berries, and whole grains, and coupons that work at farmer's markets ?

Here.
posted by MikeMc at 1:39 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I just want to say something about outsourcing. You realize that if the call centers were in the US, you'd be dealing with someone less competent than the guy at the call center, who you may trust less because of the accent."

I usually trust them, it can just be hard to communicate (both ways) with someone who has an unfamiliar accent, and while I could peg it to somewhere in the region, I wouldn't presume to know a Pakistani accent from an Indian one, let alone the local accents within the area.

As for the cockatoo, he was apparently a terror ("like having a two-year-old!") and the woman usually tried to only go out when he was asleep. Being a big, white thing with a creepy black beak and skin, no one stopped him when he wanted to climb on other people, even though we tried to avoid making contact with his demonic red and black eyes.
posted by klangklangston at 1:48 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


How dare that woman follow a store's policy and get her refund. Why, that should be against the law!

You forgot the part about first using the store's policy to get a cart of groceries for free first. She couldn't be happy with that. She had to get every cent. That kind of person infuriates me. YMMV.
posted by letitrain at 2:01 PM on December 3, 2010


You forgot the part about first using the store's policy to get a cart of groceries for free first. She couldn't be happy with that. She had to get every cent.

It looks like she actually made a cash profit on that deal, since she was refunded more than she paid.
posted by grouse at 2:05 PM on December 3, 2010


She couldn't be happy with that. She had to get every cent.

Well, they did overcharge her for the pepper. Store policy or not most places have scan accuracy laws and it's important that consumers do complain so they don't get overcharged and either the scanner db or the shelf tag get fixed.
posted by MikeMc at 2:15 PM on December 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


You're infuriated because she knew what she was doing, broke no laws, violated no policies, harassed no one, and quite possibly even corrected a store's transaction error if not just for her, but for other shoppers. Why? Where is this outrage coming from?
posted by dantsea at 2:17 PM on December 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


I usually trust them, it can just be hard to communicate (both ways) with someone who has an unfamiliar accent,

I hear you about unfamiliarity, but it's amazing that some American accents aren't totally grating to other Americans. Gina (she said "Jennuh" but spelled out G-I-N-A to me when I asked for her name) is an American (I'm assuming from the South) and she should sign up for some "How to Speak Real English" classes or watch and learn from President Obama speaking. She had the most annoying accent. I'm sure other people think it's charming.

I do like the companies with the call centers in Utah, though. All those BYU students and Mormons have been so polite and charming and have such nice phone manners (1-800-Contacts). They speak very well, too.
posted by anniecat at 2:22 PM on December 3, 2010


I try to save money on groceries, but mostly by going to separate stores for various things I buy regularly. If a coupon for something I want comes in the mail I'll most likely use it, and I use self check out as much as possible because I don't like dealing with people anyway.
But recently I found a manufacturers coupon for a dollar off a bottle of reasonable champagne at a CVS. I also knew that this company makes a 1.5 liter bottle which was not available at this store. So I grabbed two of those coupons. Then went over to a different store the next day which was having a sale and picked up 3 liters of champagne for a little under 12 dollars including tax.
Which while having to buy at least a month in advance, was something I wanted to get for a christmas party anyway and am really excited about.
posted by JackarypQQ at 2:23 PM on December 3, 2010


I have to remind myself that she wants to shop together for the company and not so we can split the gathering up so we can get out of there as quickly as possible.

I tell mine that the faster we get done with grocery shopping, the faster we can go home and do something we both enjoy (not that, you perverts; I'm talking about taking a walk or watching '60s-era Dr. Who DVDs or playing with our stupid cats).
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:43 PM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


letitrain, it was out of order for me to ask for justification. YMMV, which of course I skated over on your previous response. Sorry.

So instead here's why I am not outraged: I've done far too much work in jobs where I've had to handle fraud issues, often talking with the fraudsters themselves. I loathe such people, they make my blood boil, because the kernel of a social fraud is "I think you're stupid enough to give me what I want," and that attitude and effort, in those cases, is being directed at me. I hate the con, I hate the assumptions and I hate the greed.

(Of course, it's also mildly entertaining when I know what they're trying to do and they don't quite realize it until I've wasted fifteen minutes of their time on "procedure" -- oh, how angry they get when they suddenly realize the payoff will never come.)

But here I don't have any consumer fraud or greed to get angry about. As far as this article informs us, this woman asked for no special treatment, did not stomp her feet and demand expired coupons be taken, did not cause a scene. The only thing she did that any routine shopper in a standard transaction might not have done was ask the store to apply its own posted policy on scanner errors -- which it did.

So, I was a little astonished at the animus in this instance. But, as you said, YMMV.
posted by dantsea at 2:46 PM on December 3, 2010


Store policy or not most places have scan accuracy laws and it's important that consumers do complain so they don't get overcharged and either the scanner db or the shelf tag get fixed.

We first got used to that idea when we lived in your fair city, MikeMc, and even more so when we moved across the lake to Meeeechigan, where pricing accuracy is a well established. But 80 miles to the south of you, they laugh and scoff and will generally disabuse you of the notion that it is their responsibility to make sure the database is programmed correctly so that the correct price scans.
posted by beelzbubba at 2:53 PM on December 3, 2010


God, you would think these people were trying to get a 2-for-1 cat declawing coupon.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 2:56 PM on December 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


Very nearly all the newspaper and web coupons are for packaged, name-brand, generally unhealthy groceries; ie, things I don't buy no matter how cheap they are.

Where are the coupons for fresh meat/poultry/fish, fresh fruit/veggies/beans/nuts/berries, and whole grains, and coupons that work at farmer's markets ?


Do you not use shampoo? Toothpaste? Laundry Detergent? Dish soap? Toilet Paper? Would you not have more money to spend at the Farmer's Market if you were able to get all those things for free or nearly free?

Look, I'm not out to convince you to use coupons. What you do with your own money is up to you. But understand that you don't have to choose to use coupons on just unhealthy things. You can choose, as I do, to use coupons on things you'd buy anyhow. I can get free packaged, name-brand, whole-grain rice at the supermarket, or I can choose to pay to buy it in bulk at the co-op.
posted by anastasiav at 3:05 PM on December 3, 2010


You forgot the part about first using the store's policy to get a cart of groceries for free first. She couldn't be happy with that. She had to get every cent. That kind of person infuriates me. YMMV.

From the article: "As the economy turned sour, Harrison began to distribute groceries from her own “stockpile” (which grocery deal hunters inevitably acquire) to local families in need."

Infuriating!
posted by palliser at 3:39 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


But 80 miles to the south of you, they laugh and scoff and will generally disabuse you of the notion that it is their responsibility to make sure the database is programmed correctly so that the correct price scans.

That's part of the state motto:

Illinois: Even the grocery stores are corrupt.
posted by MikeMc at 3:48 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


You're infuriated because she knew what she was doing, broke no laws, violated no policies, harassed no one, and quite possibly even corrected a store's transaction error if not just for her, but for other shoppers.

You know how there are some things that aren't actually illegal, but your mother wouldn't approve, and would probably give you a good stern talking to about? It's that kind of thing.

Having said that, these US stores seem to be asking for it. My experience here in Australia is very similar to the people in this thread from Canada; coupons are extremely rare, especially for groceries, and when you do find them they are pretty pathetic. And I've never seen one in my life that doesn't have the following text printed on it:

"One coupon redeemable per customer per day. Not valid with any other offer."

Which makes me wonder why US retailers have chosen to do things so differently.
posted by Jimbob at 3:54 PM on December 3, 2010


I hear you about unfamiliarity, but it's amazing that some American accents aren't totally grating to other Americans. Gina (she said "Jennuh" but spelled out G-I-N-A to me when I asked for her name) is an American (I'm assuming from the South) and she should sign up for some "How to Speak Real English" classes or watch and learn from President Obama speaking. She had the most annoying accent. I'm sure other people think it's charming.

What's totally grating to me is how gratuitously people are willing to lay into folks from a part of the country they happen to have ugly stereotypes about. I have more than once on Metafilter defended outsourced phone operators. Why on earth, in the process of defending folks from the area you're from, would you attack people from another region for the crime of talking differently?
posted by hydropsyche at 4:02 PM on December 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Jimbob Which makes me wonder why US retailers have chosen to do things so differently.

From what I've seen, having observed Americans for quite a while, I think it's a pervasive assumption that they have, which is that they regard their fellow Americans as universally intelligent and fair-minded. An American retailer will come up with a marketing idea, an American politician (or lobby group) will come up with a regulation, an American on-line MMORPG company will come up with player-interacting objects, an American university will come up with an exam policy, an American philosopher will come up with a way of looking at the world, etc, and these various social expectations will be pitched squarely at the intelligent and the fair-minded. That is, if everybody showed a little bit of common sense and treated others decently, the social expectation would actually work just fine.

The problem is that a very large number of Americans (as is the case everywhere) are bereft of common sense and/or basic decency. It is the idiots and the assholes that ruin things. Every culture has an expectation of its members not to be idiots and not to be assholes. That's a given. However, what I think is going on here, is that other cultures (and most definitely including Jimbob's and mine, Australia) are anywhere between somewhat and much less reluctant to view their fellows in that light. Having thought up an idea, which we may turn into a social expectation, we ask ourselves "What would I do (with this expectation) if I was an idiot? What would I do if I was an asshole?" Which is why we have, among other things, coupon redemption limits. And banking regulations.

I think it's also the fact that the USA has Republicans, who basically constitute the majority of the "asshole class" at the top, and the majority of the "idiot class" at the bottom. The assholes at the top loudly praise the intelligence and virtue of Americans and insist that American society conduct itself accordingly, knowing full well that if it doesn't--and it won't--they and theirs can make out like bandits. The idiots at the bottom believe them.

Well, that's my theory.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:36 PM on December 3, 2010 [12 favorites]


im not in the us, but this is a very good camera deal
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:44 PM on December 3, 2010


Anyone got a link to printable coupons for Minute Maid orange juice?
posted by porn in the woods at 4:56 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


sgt.serenity, you may also be interested in this very good camera deal
posted by hattifattener at 6:18 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Coupons.com
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:43 PM on December 3, 2010



For any coupon fanatics: which site would you be checking for only current online coupons?


http://www.retailmenot.com/view/amazon.com

or try a search for "______ online code".
posted by stray thoughts at 9:39 PM on December 3, 2010


I just went through all of the grocery coupons from the newspaper, plus took a look at the first four pages of food coupons from the coupons.com link just above. The only coupon I found for something I actually buy was a coupon for eggs for $0.99 -- the same price as another grocery store was offering eggs without a coupon (and that egg coupon specifically banned combining, etc, the coupon, so I don't think there was a way to get that price lower).

So while I'm sure that people really are getting these deals, it's also clear that it's mostly for foods I don't actually buy, like prepared foods and frozen meals.
posted by Forktine at 6:32 AM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


That is, if everybody showed a little bit of common sense and treated others decently, the social expectation would actually work just fine.

It's not just Americans that work this way; similar ideas that work great in theory and less so in practice include Christianity and communism (from the Mediterranean and Europe, respectively).
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:48 AM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even if you don't use things like frozen veggies, etc there are still lots of coupons for shampoos, deodorants, household cleansers, detergents and the like.

What I find useful tho is even if it's for a product I may not normally buy, occasionally with a doubled coupon and a sale I get something for way way way less than normal (sour cream for a quarter, for example, or shredded cheese for 69 cents when the usual SALE price is two bucks, or dish detergent for free. )

It helps if you can treat this like a hobby instead of try to be just like those women who get a hundred bucks of groceries for ten bucks. That just makes my brain hurt. But if you have the time to mess with this even a little, it makes a difference.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:49 AM on December 4, 2010


it's also clear that it's mostly for foods I don't actually buy, like prepared foods and frozen meals.

Yep, about 95% of coupons out there are for those things. That's why eBay and coupon clipping services have been such a boon. I can order coupons for just the products I want or need, in quantity, and forget the rest of the crap that's out there.

Also, by watching the blogs/coupon sites you find things like this: Order a coupon for a free bottle of Excedrin.

As I said, I typically stockpile only 1 or 2 items a week. This week it happens to be Gold Medal Flour (the deal I mentioned above) and Pantene shampoo (Buy 1 Get 1 coupons combined with a good sale at CVS). A big part of making this work is separating it from your "regular" shopping and concentrating on building a good supply of one thing, then another thing, then another thing, so you gradually have a really well stocked pantry and can taper down to just buying perishables weekly.

Sunday Coupon Preview can be a great site for planning as well: in tomorrow's paper I see a useful Colgate coupon, Cuties Tangerines, Reynolds Parchment Paper, Fleischmann’s yeast ..... and dozens of products I won't buy and can't use. But the Colgate coupon, combined with doubling and a sale, could allow me to stockpile a year's worth of toothpaste for basically free.
posted by anastasiav at 10:06 AM on December 4, 2010


but fuck, I've been trying to check out of Target for a good half an hour now, and I want my goddamn water filter and I'm not going to let some thick-neck asshole bully me out of getting it.

Fuck yeah, the American dream is alive!
posted by nomadicink at 12:46 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I tried, and just never got into it. The products were never things I wanted, and I was always leaving them in the car or on the counter or whatever.

This is my issue. I am a fussy, fussy, fussy pants and I wear pants that are very fussy. I like certain brands for certain things. I don't buy more than I need. If something is on sale and it's one of the things that I'm not Brand Specific about (these things rarely exist, I even have an honest to Dog preference for brand of milk), I will buy it. Same if I have a coupon. The coupons that come in handiest to me are the CVS ExtraCare coupons that are based on what I've already bought - also Borders coupons because oh hi, I will eventually buy another book, yes.

But food? I'm just too fussy to make coupon shopping truly effective. I do my best to buy what I need and not waste food and save money that way, but it brings me personally much more joy to eat what I like than to eat for cheap. I do admire coupon shoppers for being flexible with their palettes and not being such fusspots as to require a specific brand of peanut butter.
posted by sonika at 7:23 PM on December 4, 2010


I do admire coupon shoppers for being flexible with their palettes and not being such fusspots as to require a specific brand of peanut butter.

I think this nails why it doesn't look like something that will work for me. I have specific brands of most products that work well and I can afford. I'm not opposed to saving money, but I'm not going to switch to a new brand of deodorant or (god forbid) a different brand of peanut butter in order to save a few dollars. Being able to be picky in this way is a real luxury, and I know things would be different if I was feeding a family of 10 on a limited budget.
posted by Forktine at 7:40 PM on December 4, 2010


We are a total slow food kinda family, but man, I still find a lot of coupons that work for us. Tillamook cheese, other cheeses and dairy and ice cream, cheerios (if you ever pay full price for a box of cereal, you're crazy), frozen veggies....much less likely to accidentally go bad in our overly-cold-vegetable-ruining refrigerator, bacon, sausage, flour, sugar, peanut butter, plus all the toiletries. While we rarely buy things like frozen meals, we do have three children, and as much as I love to cook, they really are happier eating cheerios for breakfast than, say, my fabulous homemade granola. I know, it rips my foodie heart out too to admit that I've ever served my family one thing that I didn't make entirely from scratch, but I'm baring my soul here and being honest.

Seriously, I think there's a tiny bit of a elitist thing going on sometimes in the anti-couponing world. You CAN feed your family healthy food and save a shitload of money on coupons; it's not just for obnoxious women loading up on Lean Cuisine and making you wait behind them while they berate the cashier. Many, many folks need to save money wherever they can, especially now. I'm not especially good at it myself, as I am chronically disorganizes and this really requires a pretty high level of commitment and organization. But hey, if someone else out there can save enough doing this that they can feed their family, or stay home with their kids, or whatever, more power to them. My heart is not bleeding for poor Walmart or Prego or General Mills. If it didn't work for them financially, they would stop doing it.

The comment above about this not being something that's easy to do in urban areas, or if you have transportation issues, is spot on. It is another example of the "high cost of poverty"; I don't have money for a car so I am forced to shop at the corner market with unhealthy choices, high prices, and no coupons.
posted by purenitrous at 10:35 PM on December 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm anti-coupon for some of the reasons mentioned above, but mostly I'm philosophically against.

By their very nature, coupons insure that some people get Consumable X for a cheaper price than other people.

It seems that everyone should be able to pay the same price for the same product.

But then I'm a communist.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:16 AM on December 6, 2010


A lot of people like specific brands, if peanut butter to me means Skippy and only Skippy I'm not shopping Aldi.

Okay, I have to say something here, because this is the problem, right? If you buy real food, made of real ingredients (say, peanut butter made from peanuts and salt, nothing else) then it doesn't matter whether you buy the Aldi brand or not, beyond the quality of the peanuts (varies) and the quality of the salt (not so much.) That frees you up to buy the better (and often cheaper) products from whatever outlet has it at your desired price and convenience.

So every time you bring home Skippy -- which is not just peanuts and salt -- you're reinforcing a preference that does you two kinds of harm. The first harm is the fact that you're not eating what's better for you, and the second harm is that you're complicit in locking yourself into a preference that limits your ability to shop for quality and price. Obviously on the scale of just peanut butter, it's no biggie, but across all your groceries it matters. Also, if it is your kids that have the preference, you should consider giving them real foods so that it's the Skippy they think tastes "weird."

Okay, back to the thread.
posted by davejay at 12:53 PM on December 6, 2010


The comment above about this not being something that's easy to do in urban areas, or if you have transportation issues, is spot on. It is another example of the "high cost of poverty"; I don't have money for a car so I am forced to shop at the corner market with unhealthy choices, high prices, and no coupons.

I am not suggesting this as an actual solution, but more as a utopian fantasy that will never come true: in this scenario of underemployment and lack of choice, one person on the block should get in the making-peanut-butter-from-peanuts-and-salt business, another should get in the farming-lettuce-and-tomatoes-in-my-backyard business, and so on, which are then shared around to help improve the overall health and lower the prices of the foods being eaten locally.

If only, if only.
posted by davejay at 12:55 PM on December 6, 2010


So every time you bring home Skippy -- which is not just peanuts and salt

It also has sugar and vegetable oil. That's it.

The first harm is the fact that you're not eating what's better for you

Peanut butter is not that great for you, full stop. And this "No true Scotsman" ridiculousness about it not being "real food" is just goofy.
posted by grouse at 1:43 PM on December 6, 2010


I'm really enjoying the comments in this topic. On the weekend I mentioned the article to a friend of mine, who moved to Cowtown from South Carolina. His Mom was very much into coupon clipping, going so far as to have the family scout out discarded Marlboro cigarette packages. Apparently the UPCs were worth a nickel a piece to some people who wanted stuff out of the Marlboro catalog. This was in the early 90s or late 80s, a nickel a piece would have been a lot more then.

I have to admit, I'm saving Air Miles for a trip to Prince Edward Island. Air Miles has been in Canada since the early 90s. The American version of the program didn't last very long, but Canadians looooove Air Miles. I don't go out of my way to shop at stores that offer them though, because sometimes you have to spend $20 or $40 to get one Air Mile. I haven't been brave enough to ask someone at Safeway - if they don't have an Air Miles card when the cashier asks for it - if I could have their Air Miles.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:19 PM on December 7, 2010


Canadian Tire money and Air Miles could become the new Canadian currencies and they would probably still beat the US dollar.
posted by benzenedream at 10:57 PM on December 7, 2010


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