My readers are never shy about sharing their thoughts and opinions about coupons. Here’s a sampling of reader email from my inbox that covers a variety of topics – everything from expiration dates to the quality of coupons currently available to shopping practices.
My latest beef with manufacturer coupons is the font size for expiration dates, ‘maximum value’ amounts and other vital coupon info. Even with my strongest readers, I still struggle to see this teeny tiny printed info. Do you know if there are laws regulating this issue? My eyes aren’t even that old yet, so I can imagine how difficult it could be for someone with even more limited sight!”
You’re not alone. I could have featured more than a dozen emails similar to yours that I’ve received over the past month, and the size of coupon print and expiration dates are one of the most frequent topics people write about. I do sympathize, but to the best of my knowledge, there are no laws regulating the size of text on coupons.
Most coupons are small – just a few square inches – so there’s a lot of text to pack into that area. In addition to the fine print with redemption information for the retailer, coupons also contain descriptions of the product or products on which the coupon is valid. Listing excluded items for which the coupon cannot be used also takes up a fair amount of space on many coupons.
I’m not defending the practice, but with much of the coupon real estate taken up by text, fine print and product photos, the space left for the expiration date is remarkably tiny on most coupons. You may find it helpful to keep a bookmark-style magnifier in your coupon wallet or where you store your weekly coupon inserts.
It seems the Sunday newspaper coupon booklets are not what they once were. The expiration dates have far less time on them and there are not nearly as many usable coupons.”
I’ve spoken with several manufacturers who have deliberately shortened the expiration date window in order to combat coupon fraud. You may not realize there is a large grey market online where people resell coupon inserts. This is a practice that’s strongly discouraged by manufacturers, especially since many of the coupon inserts being sold have been stolen from newspaper distribution centers. There have been multiple stories in the media over the past year regarding arrests for stolen inserts, yet the problem persists. By shortening the date window, manufacturers hope to discourage both resellers and those who would buy coupons online, as it takes time for sellers to acquire, package, and mail inserts to buyers. I often wonder if the people selling coupons online ever give thought to the effects their actions are having on the rest of us who simply want to get a good deal on the products we buy for our households.
There is a coupon app out there that lets you scan any coupon and the app will tell you what the coupon will work on. It is not a free app but they say you can save a lot more with it because some coupons are good on more items than they say. For example, there is a $7coupon for face cream that the app says scans on anything. You don’t have to buy the face cream and you will just get $7off your total. What are your thoughts on this?”
I’m aware of this app, and I won’t be naming it in this column. The practice you’re describing is called “decoding,” and it’s an unscrupulous practice that exploits errors in the barcode encoding on coupons. Ideally, manufacturers encode coupons that will only work on the products described. On occasion, brands do erroneously create coupons that scan on other products. However, remember that using coupons in a manner contrary to the terms outlined on the coupon is fraud.
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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, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.