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Top five electronic coupons complaints

Jill CATALDOMay 22, 2019

As incredible as it may seem, electronic coupons have been around for more than 20 years! When they first appeared on the scene, many industry spokespeople predicted that they’d soon revolutionize couponing and disrupt the traditional paper coupon model. Yet, here we are in 2019: Electronic coupons continue to grow in usage, but paper coupons are still redeemed far more often by consumers.

Why haven’t electronic coupons taken the top spot with shoppers? Even though I’ve been writing about couponing for over a decade, shoppers’ laundry list of their dislikes about electronic coupons hasn’t changed much. I often receive emails like this one:

Dear Jill: My biggest gripe, ever, is the supermarkets having us sign up for a ‘membership’ to get discounts on ‘special products’ they choose, giving your name, address, phone number, email address, and then choosing a password. Now if you want a ‘special’ special discount on their ‘special cyber’ products, you either have to print the coupon or drag out your phone to show them the bar code that you had to download onto your phone. Talk about ‘tic-ing’ a customer off. So I don’t do it — a real nuisance, but then I get angry at the store when I experience this. — Jean P.

She’s not alone. Other readers have expressed their disappointment that the advertised prices in the store’s circular are often listed as a post-coupon price which they cannot get unless they load the applicable ecoupons before shopping. The ad

must disclose that a coupon is necessary to get the final price, but at first glance, many shoppers see the item’s price and assume that no further steps are needed to purchase it for the advertised amount.

Here are the top issues consumers consistently email me to complain about:

• Fear of coupons not deducting correctly: With a paper coupon in hand, shoppers have something to point to in the event that the coupon doesn’t scan correctly. The cashier also has something in hand to read and look at in order to match the coupon to the item being purchased. Occasionally, a coupon may not be coded to work with every single variation of an item (such as different flavors or different sizes.) With a paper coupon, a cashier can verify that your coupon for “any [Brand] cereal” should also work on a seasonal spice flavor, even if this variety was overlooked when the coupon was being created.

• No knowledge of expiration dates or what coupons you’re carrying: When you’re carrying paper coupons to the store, it’s very easy to look at them and see if they’re still valid or past their expiration date. With electronic coupons, it’s not quite as easy. Shoppers either need to print a list of the electronic coupons they’ve loaded to their store account, or pull up a live list of ecoupon offers on their smart-phones to refer to in store to verify which offers are available to them.

• Most electronic coupons are valid for one use only: It’s been a long, popular practice for coupon shoppers to pick up additional copies of the Sunday papers so that they have additional coupons. If your favorite brand of laundry detergent goes on sale at a great price, barring stores’ or coupons’ own limits, you can buy as many as you have coupons for. However, most electronic coupons are one-shots. You can buy one item and apply the ecoupon to it, and then the ecoupon disappears.

• Shoppers must register for electronic coupons: Whether you’ve got to turn over a phone number or an email address, you’ll typically need to create some kind of account to select and access your electronic coupons. Purchasing a newspaper and cutting coupons from it, in contrast, can be a relatively anonymous experience.

Note that these aren’t reasons not to use electronic coupons — I use both paper and electronic offers when I shop. I simply pay closer attention to my ecoupons to make sure I’m using them before they expire and to verify that they’ve been applied correctly.

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