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COUPON QUEEN: Shopping with one eye on the other guy’s cart

Special Photo: Jill Cataldo saves hundreds on groceries by making the most of the common coupon. You can, too.

Special Photo: Jill Cataldo saves hundreds on groceries by making the most of the common coupon. You can, too.

My recent columns on etiquette for Super-Couponers generated an incredible amount of e-mail from readers. Shoppers who “clear shelves” in order to buy one product in quantity or who take multiple copies of coupons from tear pads or coupon dispensers are causing great consternation in the aisles.

Judging from the passionate letters I received, I don’t think there’s a more divisive topic I’ve covered in this column. Listen in:

Question: “Regarding the amount of coupons you take from in-store dispensers: You provide justification by saying that you take enough of the item in question to last your family until the next sale. Well, here’s the rub. I’m sure everyone could justify the number of coupons they take or the amount of product they buy even when they deplete the store’s supply in the process. You say that you bought 15 boxes of granola bars, which is justified because your family will use them. If just six people did that, I’m sure the shelves would be empty by the time I got there.”

Question: “I read your article on etiquette for couponers. I was a little surprised by your comments about shelf-sweeping. I live in a small town of about 2,500 people and my trips to the grocery store involve an hour-long drive in order to feed my family on a budget. I’ve seen those looks from people when I’m in the store buying eight bottles of laundry detergent or 20 toothbrushes in one trip. If stores are going to advertise that a certain product can be purchased for 99 cents with a coupon, then they better be prepared to have those items in the store. I think you’re right. People should worry about their own carts, not mine.”

Question: “The article on shelf-clearing made me want to scream. I have three kids and, as many people know, growing children can clean the shelves at home in less than a week. I make two trips to the store every week for our family.”

Question: “Like you, I buy more when there’s a good sale. On a recent shopping trip, a woman I didn’t know confronted me for having 10 identical cereals in my cart. The store was having a ‘Buy 10’ sale where you got a $5 coupon for every 10 items purchased. If I did not buy 10, I would have lost money! Makes sense to you and me, but not to her. She said, ‘People like you shouldn’t be allowed in the store!’ If that’s the case, why would the store even have a ‘Buy 10’ sale? I’m pretty sure the store wants my business.”

Answer: As I said, reader responses are all over the map! To price-conscious shoppers, buying in quantity makes sense. I agree with the first reader: It’s easy for anyone to justify what he or she is buying, if it’s something they will use. For me, 15 boxes of granola bars was the right number. For the next shopper, eight bottles of laundry detergent was the right number, and so on. Yet the woman buying 10 boxes of cereal (during a “Buy 10” sale, no less) was chastised for buying too much.

The definition of buying too much typically boils down to “someone buying more than I would.” I do wonder, sometimes, if the shoppers who critique other people’s carts are losing sight of the store’s purpose. Store managers are happiest when shoppers head to the checkout lane with full carts. It’s how they stay in business.

Stores are even upping the ante with high-threshold sales, like “10 for $10” and “Buy 10” sales, which encourage shoppers to buy in larger quantities. Grocery stores operate on slim profit margins, so giving an incentive to shoppers to spend more per shopping trip is simply good business.

What do stores think of shoppers who buy several items at once? We’ll hear from some employees in a future column.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her web site, www.jillcataldo.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

Comments

spencerid 1 year, 7 months ago

I often use coupons when I buy the monthly groceries, but when I buy an item online I don't have this advantage. Of course if you are a loyal customer you get sometimes discounts. For instance an online shop makes discounts for handles for handbags and I want to take this opportunity to buy one. After all a coupon is like a discount, right?!

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