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Differences between couponing in the US and UK?

A lot of people wonder what the main differences between using coupons in the US and UK are and why we in the UK cannot achieve the 90% discounts seen on US  TV shows such as Extreme Couponing. There are a number of reasons for this and a number of differences which I will explain here.

Firstly the show ‘Extreme Couponing’ like most reality shows; the people are real but what is played out may not necessarily be so. In the US the legislation against faked scenes in ‘real’ TV programmes is far less strict than here and programme  producers do take advantage of this. So many of the checkouts on extreme couponing are set up with stores allowing use of coupons that have expired or would no ordinarily be able to be used as they are being used against the terms and conditions. Some store chains in the US have realised that any publicity is not always good publicity and have refused to take part in the most recent series of the programme. Also, recently it has come to light that Extreme Couponing have gone one step further and many of those appearing on the show have used known counterfeits something which the production company does not seem to care about. See here and here (the second blog has several examples of the fakes used with screencaps). Please do not take Extreme Couponing as an example of what we’re missing out on.

Now as for differences between US and UK coupons and couponing.

  • Most US coupons come from newspaper inserts (adverts basically) and the majority of UK coupons are internet printables, either PDFs or so-called smart coupons that are individual to a particular person. There are a growing number of internet printables in the US though and likewise in the UK there are a growing number of coupons in newspapers, supermarket newsletters/magazines and sent through the post. There’s a lot of geographic variation in both countries, for example in some areas of the US there are very few coupons in the newspapers so people have to rely on printables and ‘catalinas’ (the coupons ‘spat out’ by the supermarket till after paying). In some areas of the UK you regularly get coupons for money off brands such as Andrex through your door; but in London I have never got anything of this nature.
  • US coupons are not only for money off, many are for offers such as buy one get one free; get x products for y amount of money, and so on. While more than one coupon can be used on a product in the US its usually the case that this means a money off coupon in combination with say for example a buy one get one free coupon. In the UK such special offers are already on the shelf and so we don’t tend to require the non-money off type of coupon.
  • Many US coupons are for ‘x amount off when you buy 3 or 4’ of a product, this is very rarely the case in the UK, where coupons tend to be for money off a single item or pack.
  • In some states of the US, and in some stores, the store will double or even triple coupons though the value of these doubled/tripled coupons will rarely exceed $1. This isn’t everywhere over there and some states have no stores that double at all. On the other hand in the UK our coupons tend to be higher value, with the majority of coupons actually being for £1 or more off anyway so we don’t really need the doubling policy.
  • In some areas of the US the store will give a ‘raincheck’ if a product you have a coupon for is out of stock or is not on offer before the coupon will expire. A raincheck is basically a coupon for the same value that can be used another time. We do not have rainchecks here in the UK.
  • Its a myth that in the US you can use a coupon for the wrong size or type of product, this is actually illegal. It is illegal in the UK also, so don’t do it!
  • In the US there are very few PDF coupons, PDF coupons are printable coupons in PDF format that are (usually) unlimited print and have a non-personal barcode that is identical on every one, in addition they tend to be long dated though the expiry date has gone from an average of 18 months a year or so ago to 1-2 months now.  In the US when there are such coupons available they are very rarely for groceries; but are more commonly for restaurants and theatres, there are also very strict conditions as to their use in the US and from what I’ve read in many cases it is illegal to print out more than one even though it would be hard for the company issuing the coupon to trace this. Another difference is when an online newspaper or newsletter contains a coupon, in the UK it is almost always ok to print this out and use it like a coupon cut out of the real life version of the newspaper or newsletter as the manufacturers expect this; in the US this is not allowed as the manufacturers do not give their permission for this to happen.
  • There are actually stricter limits on the number of any particular coupon allowed to be used per customer or per transaction in the US than here and the rules over there are getting stricter due to widespread coupon misuse. Over here some ASDA stores cannot process more than 8 or 10 coupons due to the till system, and some Sainsbury’s and tescos cannot process more than one of a particular couponstar coupon in one transaction even if the personalised barcodes are unique, its just a software restriction. Aside from that despite what people think if you have 100 of a coupon which you have obtained legitimately, you are allowed to use them if you have bought 100 of the item.
  • Despite what it looks like on Extreme Couponing; there are very few free item coupons distributed to the general public in the US. It is almost unheard of for free item coupons to be released on facebook or on the websites of companies like they are in the UK. The free item coupons shown on Extreme Couponing are almost invariably being misused and are often counterfeits too.
  • Counterfeit coupons are so rife in the US that special websites have been set up to let the public be aware of them, such as this one. In the UK they are extremely rare and to date only a tiny handful of counterfeits of this nature have surfaced and none have ever made their way into mainstream distribution. However in the UK there is a big problem of people scanning and reprinting manufacturer coupons that are sent through the post, such as those issued in response to a compliment or complaint letter. These coupons are not intended for this. People then sell the copies of these on ebay and ebay do not really take action about this when reported. I will be writing another post about these coupons and why you should not buy them, in the near future.

So there you have it, just a few of the differences between coupons and couponing in the two countries!

UPDATE OCTOBER 2012: According to CPG Matters, a retail industry magazine in the US; it seems that doubled coupons in the US are on their way out for good, as stores lean more towards loyalty card and internet based offers.

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