Coupon Queen: Store coupon police try to crack down on returns fraud
Ever buy something with a coupon and then decide you need to return that item? Typically, one of two things will happen at the customer service counter. The store associate will look at your receipt and refund the actual selling price of the item. Or, the associate will note that you used a coupon to buy the item and then refund the price of your item – minus the coupon.
Dear Jill: I’ve been using your suggestions for saving money at the grocery store for many years. Something I have never seen addressed is when you return an item that you purchased with a coupon. The refund never includes the cost of the coupon, so the store is benefiting because they have received money for that coupon and when I return the item, they keep the cash.
– Diana C.
A: If you buy a $2.99 item with a $1 coupon, then return it, should you receive $2.99 or $1.99? The answer depends on your store, and it might surprise you to learn that either practice is correct. Stores that opt to refund only what a shopper actually paid for an item are typically doing so to reduce “return fraud,” which unfortunately has become a large problem at retail stores.
A “serial returner” may make a living by buying products with high-value coupons, such as skincare creams, razors, tooth whitening strips and the like. Then, he or she will turn around and return those items for their full prices. If a person were to buy 10 items with $5 coupons, then go to several different stores and continue the same practice, they would be on their way to a lucrative payday once they went back to return the items. With my example above, if the “serial returner” visited four stores in a day, then went back to all the stores the next day, returning all of the products purchased with $5 coupons, he or she would have netted $200 for the effort. A nice profit? No – it’s fraud.
To crack down on this form of fraud, many retailers simply refund the portion of the price that a shopper actually paid for the product. While it may seem that you lose your coupon’s value and typically don’t get your coupon back either, this policy helps protect the stores and manufacturers from fraud. It’s unlikely that a fraudster will waste his or her time playing the game of serial returns if there’s no profit to be made from it.
Another of my readers has a different question on product returns.
Dear Jill: I subscribe to a bottled water delivery service. The other day the deliveryman brought too many bottles, leaving an extra 5-gallon bottle at our home. I called to say that we didn’t want the extra bottle right now, and I was curious to see what would happen. The delivery driver came over again to pick it up, and then I saw him open the bottle near a sewer grate in the street and empty it completely! When I went out to ask him what he was doing, he said they cannot sell that bottle to someone else because I could have tampered with it. Have you ever heard of this? Surely it cost them more to come back and destroy it versus just letting me keep the extra bottle.
– Mike U.
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. Email your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.