Extreme couponers are forcing retailers to review, and in some cases, change their coupon policies, says Executive Editor Marina Mayer. Read on to find out what retailers are doing to regain control of their bottom line.




It used to be that clipping coupons wasn’t cool. Consumers flocked to name-brand items because it’s what they trusted and liked. Shoppers wanted the real deal-no coupons necessary-regardless of the price tag.

That was before the economy took a nosedive, forcing Americans to tighten up their spending.

Now, the uplift in economical pressures has allowed consumers to again open up their purse strings a bit. But at what cost does all of this take place? For some shoppers, the thought of spending money is still like treading on ice-you never know when the ground is going to crack below you.

That’s why many of today’s consumers are turning the once-not-so-cool function of collecting coupons into a trend. Whether it’s aiming to get $10 off a tire rotation, 25% off a restaurant bill or saving $2 on a bag of chips at the grocery store, more and more Americans are able to spend more money because they’re clipping and saving at the register.

According to a report by New York-based Nielsen Co., the percentage of consumers who are heavy coupon users is on the rise, reaching 13% of all households in 2010, up 11% from 2009. Of all the coupons used in 2010, 70% were redeemed by enthusiasts, which is defined as those who bought at least 188 items using coupons per year.

The coupon craze became even larger of a concept when TLC’s Extreme Couponing debuted, where real-life bargain shoppers save hundreds of dollars in a single trip to the grocery store just by submitting an abundance of coupons.

Imagine doling out six dozen coupons per shopping trip? I have a hard enough time just keeping my Target Visa in check.

After watching several episodes (mainly because this whole concept is intriguing, not because I’m addicted to reality TV, ha ha), I saw how these coupon collectors “stored” their massive amounts of bulk items-underneath the bed, in their children’s closets, in the basement, even in added-on shelving in the garage, similar to the nuclear fallout shelter in Blast from the Past.

These coupon collectors have taken the trend of saving money to a whole new level. They’ve become coupon hoarders.

But, when is enough enough?

Unfortunately, these bundles of redeemed coupons are forcing retailers to experience the bulge left behind after extreme couponers wipe their shelves clean of product and only pay $3 at the register. As a result, supermarket chains such as Target and Walgreen’s, to name a few, are updating their coupon policies to stave off those extreme couponers and gain back control of their profits.

For example, last year, Walgreen’s Co., Deerfield, Ill., posted rules at the cash registers stating that “management reserves the right to limit quantity of items purchased,” to help prevent customers from wiping them out of product.

On June 13, Target Corp. made some enhancements to its coupon policy.

“We didn’t so much as change our policy as we added more language to better showcase what we accept when customers submit their coupons,” says Erika Winkels, spokesperson for the Minneapolis-based big box retailer.

One of the enhancements was to the buy-one/get-one-free section, indicating that such coupons cannot be combined to make both items free-a strategy that most coupon enthusiasts used to their advantage.

“Our policy change wasn’t necessarily tied to the couponing trend. We continuously monitor our policies and want to provide a great experience for our customers,” Winkels says.

While coupons have become the cool thing to use at the cash register, these so-called enthusiasts are beginning to ruin the fun for the rest of us who redeem coupons to save a few bucks, but don’t want to hoard home three shopping carts full of items. Thankfully, retailers are making it so us coupon users (not collectors) can still clip and save.