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Some coupons are worded unclearly

August 22, 2018

Using a coupon should be straightforward: Read the terms, buy the item or items specified, and receive a discount. However, there are times when manufacturers use less-than-clear terminology in their coupon offers. Here are some recent examples from readers:

Dear Jill, I saw a coupon for vitamins in the paper inserts recently, and it said it was good on “new” varieties of these vitamins. It was a good coupon, so I took it to the store expecting to see the “new” varieties tagged as such. However, none of the bottles said “new.” How are shoppers supposed to know what is actually new to use the coupon on? - Ted K

In this situation, I too would expect that the “new” vitamin varieties would be marked as such on their packaging. You may be able to identify some of the included vitamins from the photograph on the coupon, but this is only a guide - coupon usage isn’t limited solely to what’s pictured on the coupon itself. A coupon that states it is good on “all” varieties, or in this case, “new” varieties, is valid for use on multiple items.

In this case, the reader included the specific brand name of the vitamins in question. I went to the brand’s website to see if it listed or identified the “new” products in their line, but the website did not. I think we can chalk this particular instance up to both a poor choice of wording and poor marketing on the brand’s part.

Dear Jill, I have a coupon for $2 off any bathroom cleaner. Is it also good on toilet bowl cleaner? In the newspaper coupons it had another .50 coupon specifically for the toilet bowl variety, but the $2.00 coupon is higher value. I think it should work because the toilet is in the bathroom. - Nadine M.

I can understand the logic that a “bathroom cleaner” might include products designed to clean the toilet, as the toilet is indeed found in the bathroom! However, the fact that the same insert also included a coupon specifically for toilet bowl cleaner is another clue - bathroom cleaners are products used to clean the bathroom itself, and toilet bowl cleaners are specifically for the toilet.

This is a common misconception though. When I became a couponer, I had the same misunderstanding regarding makeup coupons. Many coupons for makeup state that they are for a “face product.” Because eyes and lips are part of the face, I assumed I could use a “face product” makeup coupon on lipstick or mascara. However, I later learned that “face product” is for products that go on the skin of your face, such as powder, foundation, and concealers. Coupons for lip and eye products are specifically labeled as such.

Dear Jill, our local supermarket had a coupon in their ad for $1.00 off a store brand ‘large size’ applesauce. The actual size of the jar depicted on the coupon was not discernable. None of the applesauce said ‘large’ on the jar. I picked what I thought was a fairly large jar, but the coupon didn’t work. The cashier had no idea what size jar this was for either. Why didn’t the store just put the ounces of the jar on the coupon? - Liza G.

I can’t say why your store didn’t specifically list the size of the applesauce on the coupon, but this kind of confusion could have been avoided if the person crating this coupon had clarified exactly what it was valid on. Couponing should be simple. Brands and retailers alike would do well to create clear and concise coupon terms that don’t cause confusion for shoppers or for cashiers. Fortunately, the majority of coupons do a good job of this. A coupon should be designed to benefit both the brand and the shopper. If the shopper can’t understand how to use the coupon, the coupon won’t fulfill its intended purpose: Increasing sales for the brand that offered it.

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.

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