I read your column in our local paper, so you are the only one I know who can answer a question about ethical couponing. I downloaded a PDF file of a coupon from a company’s website, and printed multiple copies. I went to the store to stock up but the cashier would only accept one of each kind of coupon with a unique code. This is not stated in the store’s coupon policy. I was not intending to redeem fraudulent coupons. With the tight coupon printing restriction at most sites, I assumed if the company wanted to restrict prints it would, instead of offering them in the PDF format. It seems to me that a company that offers a PDF should redeem multiple coupons with the same code. What should I learn from this? Rita L.
Most printable coupons on the web are restricted to two prints per coupon. This is usually done with a browser plugin or add-on that monitors the number of coupons printed. Even when a user prints two identical coupons, they’re not truly identical. Two $1 coupons for toothpaste will typically contain another identifying feature, usually a serial number or barcode, that is different on each coupon. Each print is unique. Manufacturers use these serial numbers a variety of ways, one of which is to weed out fraudulent photocopies. Once coupons are used at the store, they are sent to a clearinghouse for redemption. If the clearinghouse discovers photocopies, it weeds out the copies and only reimburses the store for each unique printable. If a store has mistakenly accepted photocopies of a $1 toothpaste coupon, it will be reimbursed for just one; additional coupons with an identical identifier are not allowed. The store takes a loss on those.
As you can imagine, this has made many stores wary and apprehensive about accepting some print-at-home coupons, especially if the store is small and has previously felt the sting of coupon fraud. Retailers are training cashiers to look for unique numbers and identifiers to make sure they do not accept any print-at-home coupons that are identical to each other.
Which brings us to this reader’s question. In her situation, a company offered a printable coupon in Portable Document Format (PDF.) All prints of this type of file will be identical. A PDF also contains no print limitations, so a user can print as many identical coupons as he or she would like.
It’s unusual to see coupons offered in the PDF format; most companies want to restrict how many coupons they allow each user to print. But occasionally, a company will legitimately offer a coupon in this unlimited-print, identical format.
What happens next? Well, the reader printed several legitimate copies of the PDF coupon, but her store would not accept them because they were all identical. It’s highly likely that the cashiers were trained to look for some differences on the printable coupons to be assured that they were unique. With these coupons, there were no unique identifiers, so the store likely suspected that they were not legitimate – even though they were!
This is a tough situation. Any store reserves the right to accept or turn down any coupon.