When digital load-to-card coupons first came onto the scene several years ago, couponers considered them a bit of a goldmine. Now we could use store coupons, manufacturer’s coupons AND digital coupons, too? What’s not to like about an additional source of savings? Then, one by one, stores began deciding that digital coupons couldn’t be stacked after all, and many couponers lost interest. But now one grocery chain that’s new to digital couponing is switching things up.
Jacksonville, Florida-based Winn-Dixie today unveiled a new e-coupon program, available in all of its stores in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and Mississippi. The fact that yet another grocery chain has rolled out yet another digital coupon program isn’t especially noteworthy. Except this program appears to address two of the main complaints couponers have had about digital coupons.
The first complaint, as mentioned above, is that most digital coupons can’t be combined, or stacked, with other coupons. When digital coupons were first introduced, no one seemed sure exactly how to classify them – were they manufacturer’s coupons, store coupons, or a third category all their own? Stores’ coupon policies that simply stated “one manufacturer coupon per item” were in need of an upgrade. For a while, there was no consensus, as many stores did treat digital coupons as a third category, able to be stacked with other coupons. In 2011, digital coupon pioneer Kroger updated its cash register software to reject a digital coupon and a paper manufacturer’s coupon on the same item, essentially declaring digital coupons to be manufacturer’s coupons and therefore not stackable with a manufacturer’s paper coupon. And many other grocery chains followed. Many who initially saw digital coupons as a great additional savings opportunity, now saw them as nearly worthless as compared to paper coupons – they’re not stackable, not subject to doubling, and only available to use once.
But Winn-Dixie’s e-coupon policy contains the curious Q&A: “Q. Can I use an e-coupon and a paper coupon for the same item in a single transaction? A. Yes, up to the limit of the item purchase price.”
That flies in the face of just about everything we’ve been told til now. Manufacturers and coupon providers have been trying to formulate an industry standard for treating digital coupons as non-stackable manufacturer’s coupons. The Grocery Manufacturers Association formed a “Coupon Committee” to study the issue, and issued its “Voluntary Guidelines for Digital Coupons” in October. “Manufacturers expect no change to the one manufacturer coupon (in any form) for one purchase requirement,” the report read, and went on to recommend that stores clearly say so in their coupon policies, and update their software to enforce it. And a July report from the digital coupon processor Intelligent Clearing Network even appeared to shift some of the blame onto couponers themselves, calling the practice of combining digital and paper coupons “a kind of double dip by the consumer” and recommending that a no-stacking policy be clearly communicated to “savvy shoppers” who might seek to illicitly maximize their savings by combining coupons.
Winn-Dixie is apparently trying something different. When asked for clarification of the policy, a customer service manager stated that e-coupons were to be treated like store coupons, meaning they could be combined with manufacturer’s coupons per the Winn-Dixie coupon policy. But the Q&A specifies that an e-coupon can be combined with “a paper coupon”, not specifically a manufacturer’s paper coupon. The customer service manager stated that, yes, that means e-coupons can also be combined with paper store coupons, as long as the wording on the paper coupon doesn’t forbid it. So if e-coupons are meant to be treated as store coupons, that would mean you could combine two forms of store coupons, which is not allowed under the current coupon policy. Asked for further clarification, a Winn-Dixie media relations representative did not immediately respond.
The second thing couponers tend not to like about digital coupons is that they can only be used once. Not much of a savings, compared to being able to use nearly all the paper coupons you can get your hands on. But again, Winn-Dixie’s e-coupon policy contains another curious Q&A: “How many times can an e-coupon be used? A. An e-coupon can be used once per checkout transaction… Most coupons can be used once, but others can be loaded to your account multiple times by loading the coupon to your card again after you redeem it.”
This answer comes with some caveats, though. “Most coupons can be used once,” Winn-Dixie states, adding that “the number of times an e-coupon can be reloaded to your account depends on the manufacturer.” There’s presently no way to tell when you load an e-coupon onto your store loyalty card, whether it’s one that can be used multiple times. The Winn-Dixie customer service supervisor said there will be no way to tell. You’ll just have to check back later and see whether the coupon reappears as an option. She could not say whether the ability to reuse coupons was merely a theoretical possibility spelled out in the policy, or whether there were indeed coupons hidden among the dozens available that could be used more than once.
At a time when the introduction of a digital coupon program can be viewed with suspicion (just look at how H-E-B’s rollout has gone), or stores use the purported popularity of digital coupons as an excuse to eliminate doubling, Winn-Dixie’s e-coupon policy comes as a refreshing change.
But new coupon policies are always subject to change, as stores and couponers start finding the nuances and loopholes and begin asking questions. So it’s possible the stacking and reusing of Winn-Dixie’s e-coupons could go away. For now, at least, they represent a huge improvement in digital couponing. So enjoy it – while it lasts.
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