A single coupon policy change may be a fluke. Two is a little more troublesome, three makes it a trend, and by the time you get to four, it may be a sign that this is becoming the new normal. For the fourth time now, the country’s largest supermarket chain is ending double coupons in many of its stores.
This time, it’s in Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic region, which encompasses stores in North Carolina, Virginia, most of West Virginia, and tiny adjacent slivers of Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. Kroger plans to make a public announcement this weekend. But in a statement provided today to Coupons in the News, Kroger confirmed that it will stop doubling coupons in those stores as of Sunday, May 12th. In its place, Kroger plans to offer new lower prices throughout the store, beginning this coming Sunday, April 28th.
It’s a continuation of a trend that began two years ago. Kroger first eliminated double coupons in its Houston division in April 2011, closely followed by Dallas in September of that year. But the expected domino effect stopped there, when no other Krogers followed suit. A year later, another “surprise announcement” in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area turned out to be something else altogether. That’s where Kroger unveiled its first “New! Low Prices” program, lowering everyday prices on thousands of items (read: “Kroger Slashes Prices (For Some)”).
Then in February of this year, those two unrelated changes were rolled into one. Kroger announced it was doing away with double coupons in the Cincinnati/Dayton division – its own corporate backyard (read: “Kroger Offers New Lower Prices! Oh, And No More Double Coupons”). That had Kroger shoppers in other areas wondering if they would be next.
Wonder no more. “In an effort to provide our customers with the most value for their dollar, we are updating our coupon policy and implementing a New Lower Prices program” in the Mid-Atlantic region, Kroger is announcing. As it did in Hampton Roads, Kroger is investing millions of dollars in lower prices. And as it did in Cincinnati, Kroger is eliminating double coupons to help pay for it.
“We believe that lowering prices across the store will reward more of our loyal customers on items that they buy most often,” spokesman Carl York said. “Everyone can enjoy these savings.” Examples offered include a head of lettuce or Roma tomatoes for 99 cents, and a 100oz-sized bottle of Tide detergent for $11.99 – everyday prices that are about the same as many stores’ sale prices.
Call it the Walmart-ization of the grocery business. While grocery stores offer perks like double coupons and frequent sales, they’re losing ground to Walmart, with its everyday low prices and face-value coupon policy. So if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Food Lion, one of Kroger’s main competitors in the Mid-Atlantic region, doesn’t double coupons either. But Harris Teeter, another regional competitor, doubles and even triples coupons on occasion – like this very week. Not great timing for Kroger to announce it won’t even be doubling them soon. Many frustrated couponers will no doubt vow never to shop at Kroger again, and do business with a store that doubles and triples their coupons. Kroger is betting that the majority of its non-couponing customers, though, will stick around for the lower prices.
Kroger points out that it will still offer sales, loyalty-card savings, and perks like its fuel rewards program. But industry analyst David Livingston believes it’s the total at the bottom of your receipt that really matters. In comments directed at Safeway this week, but which could just as well apply to Kroger, he told the San Jose Mercury News that perks and rewards programs are mere “distractions”. “It confuses the customer, giving them the illusion they are getting a real discount,” he said. “It’s more psychological, which is what is needed to compete with Walmart.”
Kroger would contend that its lower prices are more than just psychological. But then psychology can come into play, when lower prices begin creeping upward over time. It’s happened before (read: “When ‘New Low Prices’ Are Neither New, Nor Low (For Long)”). That raises the possibility that many Kroger customers will ultimately see prices right back where they once were, and still no double coupons (read more about the history of double coupons here).
For now, though, pity the poor residents of Hampton Roads. As mentioned earlier, that was the first market in which Kroger introduced its new lower prices. But for all this time, double coupons remained. No longer. While the rest of the Mid-Atlantic gets the bad news/good news of no doubles but lower prices, there essentially isn’t any good news for Hampton Roads. Their prices will stay the same, but their coupon values won’t.
So if your Kroger still doubles coupons, enjoy it while it lasts. If you get word in the future of new lower prices coming to your region – you’ll know what’s coming next.