Why can a coupon scan for a totally different item? I have recently joined a few online couponing groups, and it’s amazing what people try to buy with the wrong coupon.
These groups call this ‘coupon glittering’ and are teaching new people it’s not against the law because stores are aware and get reimbursed. Not that I’m going to do it, but I am curious how they are getting away with buying a trial size lotion with a $4 allergy medicine coupon. Does each store have their own level of authenticity for coupons? There are 2 stores I see that are used most frequently by people ‘glittering.’” —Liza A.
There are several terms for coupon fraud that less scrupulous shoppers utilize in an attempt to justify breaking the rules: “Glitching”, “Glittering” and “Balanced Couponing”. While it might seem you might get a great deal by using a $3 laundry detergent coupon intended for a large bottle on a $1 travel-sized package, this practice is coupon fraud.
Today’s coupon bar codes usually do scan on specific products while excluding others. Coupons contain validation fields for product families, brands, sizes and varieties. When a brand creates a coupon, they can use these factors to determine how specifically a product must match the coupon’s encoding. A coupon for 50 cents off cereal could be general enough to scan on any cereal made by a specific brand, or it could be set up to scan only on large size boxes. It may be even more specific, scanning only on a specific flavor of cereal.
However, there are some circumstances where a coupon that specifically says it is for one item will indeed scan on another. Many of the “glitter” coupon groups will work, either through trial and error or through the use of decoding app software, to figure out on which other items a coupon might work. A brand may intend for the coupon to work on a specific product variety – say, a cinnamon-flavored cereal. The brand includes verbiage restricting its use to the cinnamon variety only. However, when the brand created the coupon, they may not have used all of the available fields and data to create a bar code that forces the shopper to actually buy the cinnamon variety.
Liza pointed out that she saw an instance of a shopper using a coupon for allergy medication on lotion. In this case, it’s highly likely that both the allergy medicine and the lotion were made by the same parent company, and the company did not place specific-enough data within the coupon to force its usage only on the medication.
Further compounding the issue, some retailers do not scan coupons as thoroughly as they could. Stores’ registers have the ability to validate coupons down to very specific levels, but some retailers opt not to fully authenticate all of the different levels encoded in the coupon. This is the reason you may see some of these fraudulent coupon groups advocating misusing coupons at specific retailers – the fraudsters have “done their homework”, so to speak, on which stores are more likely to accept coupons for one item on another.
Understand, too, that some of the less-than-ethical coupon deals you may spot online may have nothing to do with how coupons are coded at all. I’ve seen instances where shoppers will advocate using a coupon for “$1 off one facial tissue and one cold medicine product” on two boxes of facial tissues, even though the coupon is correctly coded to look for both one tissue and one package of cold medicine. The register won’t allow it, but the shopper is banking on the cashier pushing the coupon through manually to make the deal work.
Your best bet, as always, is to read and abide by the wording on the coupon. Stores can face consequences for accepting coupons on products they did not actually sell. If the store is audited and cannot prove they sold the specific items on the coupons, the store may not be reimbursed for the coupons they wrongfully accepted.