Coupon Queen: Digital coupon pitfalls and perils

“Dear Jill,

How do you feel about digital coupons loaded onto store loyalty cards?

I have trouble with my local supermarket’s loyalty card not always redeeming the digital coupons I thought were loaded.

Recently there was a digital coupon for a free large brand-name box of cereal that did not register as free.

I had my digital coupon printout with me, so the manager did give me the cereal for free; a $4+ savings.

Any suggestions on how to ensure these digital coupons do load?”

As much as the coupon industry is enthusiastic about electronic coupons, many coupon-using consumers feel differently.

Electronic coupons do have some advantages over their paper counterparts: They do not require as much physical time and effort to load, and they can be loaded on the fly while you’re standing in the store.

However, when you load an electronic coupon, there’s a faith factor in play: You hope that the coupon is correctly applied when you buy the product in question.

I’ve always felt that paper coupons have a sense of security about them that digital coupons simply don’t. If for some reason a paper coupon doesn’t scan, your cashier can intervene and manually enter its value.

When an electronic coupon isn’t applied automatically at the register, the shopper is placed in a position where he or she must explain which electronic coupon was pre-loaded and didn’t apply.

Depending on the store’s policies, the cashier may not have the ability to override the register for an electronic coupon. Either bringing a printout of the list of loaded e-coupons, or pulling up the list of pre-loaded electronic coupons on a smartphone are really the only two ways of proving what discount you were attempting to use.

On a personal note, in my experience, discounts do not always come off when a coupon specifies that it is for “selected varieties.” While paper coupons often have loads of fine print, electronic coupons typically do not list all of the terms on the main screen or app where you load the coupons.

I’ve also had trouble when purchasing special varieties of products.

Recently, I bought a pumpkin-flavored snack food item, which was a seasonal item. My e-coupon did not register, presumably because the manufacturer either forgot to include the product’s UPC in the coupon offer when it was set up, or because the brand unknowingly excluded the seasonal flavors from the coupon.

It’s worth watching the register carefully when you’re buying items like these.

“Dear Jill,

I have been a loyal supermarket shopper for years. I joined my store’s electronic coupons program.

I do not have the time to look through pages of coupons and clip them. I think that if I purchase the item with an available coupon, it should automatically come off my bill.

What am I missing out on?”

Manufacturers only want to pay out for shoppers who take the time to clip those offers — paper or electronic.

Brands would not offer as many discounts if everyone were automatically using every single one of them. They want to reward shoppers who seek out these offers and build loyalty that way, not simply give them to everyone.

Understand that this is not a case of your supermarket not wanting to reward you, or wishing to make things more “difficult” for you while shopping. The brands set the terms as the majority of the offers in MyMixx are manufacturer sponsored.

There was actually a lawsuit a few years ago against a couponing app that clipped every e-coupon attached to your stores’ loyalty accounts.

It automatically loaded every single offer without human intervention. However, the app quickly went out of business after facing a lawsuit from a major electronic coupon website, noting that it is not the brands’ intention to have all offers automatically clipped.

I understand you don’t want to spend too much time hunting for offers, but most stores’ coupon apps allow you to sort the offers by category, or search by brand name, which can help speed along the coupon selection process.