If you still expect your grocery store to turn that 50-cent coupon of yours into a dollar-off discount, one retailer says you might as well be living in the Stone Age. The “practice of double-couponing has become a marketing tool of the past,” a spokesman for southern California supermarket chain Vons tells the Orange County Register. Ouch.

Tucked away at the bottom of Vons’ new weekly sales circular is the notice, “Effective August 1, 2012, Manufacturer’s Coupons will be accepted at face value only.” That will make Safeway-owned Vons the latest supermarket chain to eliminate double coupons. “The grocery business is highly competitive and we frequently refine our promotions based on the market,” Vons spokesman Carlos Illingworth explained to The Register.  This is actually at least the second time Vons has tried doing away with doubles – it last eliminated double coupons in 2006, but relented the next year and brought them back.

This time, though, Vons has company.  A southern California competitor, Ralph’s, ended its double-coupon program last April. Ralph’s corporate owner, Kroger, had already ended double and triple coupons in its Texas stores a year earlier. All three chains have tried to soften the blow by promoting newer, more modern ways to save, like Kroger’s fuel-rewards program, or Vons’ “Just For U” personalized digital loyalty program.

But some shoppers aren’t buying it. For nearly a year now, irate Kroger customers have been venting on a website called BringBackDoubles.com. The company, which claims to have invented double coupons, hasn’t budged.

Many shoppers are wondering who will be next to jump on the no-doubles bandwagon. But it’s far too soon to proclaim the death of doubling. Just ask Giant Eagle.

Back in 2007, well before the current anti-double trend, the Pittsburgh-based grocer announced that it was discontinuing double coupons at some of its Ohio stores. Just one day later, Giant Eagle decided to delay the move. “Customers expressed concern” about the new policy, a spokesman said euphemistically. Within weeks, the chain completely reversed course: “You spoke and Giant Eagle listened – and our double coupons program isn’t going anywhere!”  And it remains in place today.

When it comes to size and influence though, Giant Eagle is no Kroger. But Kroger is no Walmart. The retail giant has been testing double coupon programs in Utah, West Virginia and other markets since last year. And any move to expand the program could breathe new life into the decades-old practice of doubling coupons.

So if doubles are indeed “a marketing tool of the past”, grocers like Kroger, Ralph’s and Vons may need to keep a close eye on what the nation’s number-one retailer has planned for the future.

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