Anatomy of a Coupon

Before you can use a coupon properly, it is helpful to fully understand all its components. There is a lot of information found on coupons, for both the consumer and the retailer. The consumer needs to know how much the coupon is for, which products it's for, and how many items need to be purchased to use the coupon. They also need to know how long they have to use the coupon and exactly how they can use the coupon in a transaction. The retailer needs to know all those components along with where to send the coupon for redemption and what they will get in exchange for the coupon. If you can't find all this information on a coupon, then it may not be real and the store may not accept it.

Here is a list of the important information you can find on a coupon and what it means:

  • Value and Quantity. The value stated is what will be discounted when the coupon is used. This amount will automatically be deducted when the register reads the bar code. There will be a quantity that you'll need to purchase in order to use the coupon. If it says $1.00 off of two boxes, you must purchase two boxes to use the coupon. The quantity and the value are coded within the bar code.

  • Picture. Each coupon will have a picture of the product along with a description of the product. Sometimes the coupon may be for a family of products but will only show one item in the picture. If you read the entire description, you'll know what you can purchase with the coupon.

  • Description of Product. You may only be able to use the coupon on a specific size of an item or a particular product within the family of products. Read the actual description written on the coupon to figure this out. You may have a coupon for Tide but it says it's only good on Tide Plus Bleach. If that's the case, you cannot use the coupon on regular Tide. You may also be restricted to use it on one particular size. For instance, if the manufacturer does not want you to use the coupon on the trial size, then it will say “not valid on trial size.” (Trial sizes and travel sizes are usually the same thing.)

  • Expiration Date. Most coupons will have an expiration date, but if there is no expiration date, it will state that somewhere on the coupon. This date is the last day that you can use the coupon. Make sure that you do not accidentally cut off the expiration date when clipping the coupon. If you do, you won't be able to use it.

  • Note to Consumer and to Retailer. The note to the consumer is to explain how to use the coupon and the note to the retailer explains where they can send the coupon and what they will receive for a handling fee when redeemed. You may only be able to use one coupon per transaction or per household. If this is the case, the note to the consumer will explain. The retailer is actually paid for each coupon they submit. They will receive the face value along with a handling fee, which is stated on the coupon. If this information is not on the coupon, it is not a manufacturer coupon.

  • Bar Code. The bar code has lots of information that is read by the cash register. It was made to speed up the process when checking out. The cashier no longer needs to input the value of the coupon. All that information can be read from the bar code, including the dollar amount, the product, the expiration date, and the quantity.

What if I accidentally cut off the expiration date on the coupon while clipping it?

If you accidentally cut off the expiration date of a coupon while clipping it, then you've voided the coupon. The expiration date is needed to make it valid. The store needs to know how long a coupon can be used, or they cannot accept it. If they could, then there would be no need for an expiration date in the first place.

The Numbers on the Coupon Bar Code

Each number on the bar code means something to the store's computers, as do the numbers on the UPC code on the product. The first number will tell the register whether it can be doubled or not. Some coupons can be doubled according to store policies. If the coupon cannot be doubled, it will state that on the coupon and the bar code will begin with a nine. If the coupon can be doubled, it will begin with a five. This will be read by the cash register and if your store doubles coupons, the register will double them according to the way it's coded.

The second set of numbers is the manufacturer code. This number identifies the product so the register will know if you purchased that product. The next set of numbers is the product code. From that number the register knows how much the coupon is worth, when it expires, and how many items you need to purchase to use the coupon.

The Extreme Couponing television show has shown the misuse of coupons, which results in companies losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because of this, they are reworking the bar codes on coupons to make them more accurate so the registers can identify what you are purchasing. This will avoid the misuse of coupons and hopefully speed up the checkout process.

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