Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Clip, Clip, Screw

The other night, while flipping channels, I happened upon Extreme Couponing. Now, we all know I watch a lot of crap TV.  While I have been accused of being both a movie snob and a book snob (mostly by people who have NO taste in movies {cough, cough PG}), I am definitely not  a TV snob. I may not watch The Bachelorette, but I watch almost everything else.
To those of you smart enough to change the channel (or to avoid TLC entirely), in each episode two different people go to the grocery store and try to buy as much stuff as possible while paying at little as possible. For example, if Snapple Iced Tea is on sale for $1.00 and there is a coupon for $.50 off Snapple and the store allows the doubling of coupons, then you are receiving that one dollar item for free. If the store does not have a policy that limits the number of either coupons or purchases of a sale item, you can then buy cases of Snapple - all for free. 
Or, if you have a manufacturer's coupon that is MORE than the sale item, say $1.00 off of Snapple Iced Tea, but the iced tea is on sale for $.75 each, then some stores will actually credit you back the $.25 per bottle you purchase.
What I don't understand is why it is necessary to purchase multiple cases of an item. If I need a case of Snapple, it is certainly nice not to have to pay for it. But unless I am throwing one hell of a party for AA members, I certainly don't need more than two, right? Even those lunatics who feel the need to stockpile food and beverages for the end of the world, the zombie apocalypse (Hi M!) , or the Third World War still probably know enough to rotate the expiration dates out now and again. No one wants to face Judgment Day with food poisoning. But you can't possibly drink dozens of cases of Snapple in time to beat the expiration date unless you want to face the end of the world with a mouth full of cavities (and I don't think you can kill anything, undead or not, with bad breath). So why buy more than you need? Last night's episode showed a woman buying at least a dozen gallons of Almond Milk. Isn't that going to expire relatively quickly? Does lack of use negate lack of payment? I certainly think so. I have spent my entire life trying to explain to my mother that just because it is on sale, doesn't mean it is a bargain if you don't actually need/want/use it. She hasn't quite grasped the concept yet but I'm still trying.
Most of the women (and the few men) shown have storehouses of food, cleaning supplies, beverages, and junk food. It's like hoarding, except everything is organized in neat rows. One guy claimed that he donated everything, but he didn't say where or to whom or even how much. I'd be impressed with someone who used their mad coupon skills for good, but even if they did donate the whole stash, it is still unfair to the store and manufacturer  you basically just screwed out of payment. What may seem like a fun game to you ends up being a huge headache for a store manager in a business that already has slim profit margins trying to figure out how he is going to restock the entire Snapple display without the money to pay the distributor.
I also wonder at the wisdom of showing how you screw the system on television. If I owned Snapple and found out someone was advertising how to acquire my product without paying for it, I would immediately contact my marketing team to rectify the situation. No Snapple coupon would be worth more than $.25 and could not be used in conjunction with any other coupon. If I were a grocery store owner, I would immediately set limits on both the amount of coupons allowed (say one per item) and the amount of items allowed to be purchased (say maximum of six).
The coupon craze is conspicuous consumption writ large. The concept of acquiring multitudes of items just to have them, is such an American (and Ferengi) mindset that I can only imagine what other cultures would think of such a TV show. Also, since most of the coupons are for boxed, canned, bagged, bottled, and frozen food, most of what they are eating isn't even healthy. It's all just empty calories filling empty spaces. Either way, I can't imagine this craze will last long. The more the big corporations learn about how the coupons are being manipulated, the more they will change how coupons can be used. When you allow a TV crew to follow your step-by-step process on how to beat the system, it isn't going to take long for the system to change the game.

1 comment:

  1. And in the end the consumer ends up paying for it all with higher prices for the rest of us who can't be bothered with buying 8 subscriptions to the Sunday paper, three computers to print out online coupons and dumpster diving for the coupon inserts. In the end when you figure how much they spend on the paper, computers and the hours they spend organizing the tens of thousands of coupons they probably would make more $$ getting a job at Walmart with an employee discount.