Marley Coffee rebates

For a while last week, you could have gotten a box of Marley Coffee single-serve capsules absolutely free, by stacking several different discounts that the company was running at the same time. Hopster has a printable coupon for $1.50 off. Checkout 51 had a $2.50 rebate available, Ibotta was offering $2 cash back, and the Shrink rebate app is offering $1.50. Combine those offers with an in-store promotion for up to $2 off at Kroger and other stores, and altogether, you could have scored $9.50 off a box of coffee that sells for about that much.

Free coffee! Sound like a great deal? A lot of shoppers, and coupon bloggers, certainly thought so.

At least until Marley Coffee figured out what it had done. Then it branded the deal-seekers as “abusers” and attempted to silence bloggers who were sharing the deal.

The perfectly legitimate deal. Made possible by Marley Coffee itself.

The trouble started when Marley Coffee appeared to publicly endorse – then suddenly denounce – the stacked savings. Several bloggers spelled out the scenario last week, and Melissa of the website I Heart Natural Deals shared it on Twitter. “Marley Coffee retweeted another stacking deal I posted a few days earlier to all their followers,” she told Coupons in the News. “When this new stacking deal came up, I also shared it on Twitter. Shortly after, I got this email: ‘This promo needs to be taken down ASAP. Coupon stacking is not legal within these apps and promoting as such will result in action being taken on Marley Coffee’s behalf.'”

“Not legal”? “Action being taken”? Sounds kind of serious. But how much of it is true?

“The mobile coupon apps are not intended to be used together to receive a ‘free’ product,” a Marley Coffee representative told Coupons in the News. “We know there is a risk of running multiple offers and that some individuals will try to take advantage of these offerings when running in conjunction, but to advertise ‘free product’ or ‘75% off’ and trying to put it out to the masses over the internet, results in us having to remove offers that not everyone is abusing.”

Marley Coffee spokesperson Maian Tran explained further. “Coupon stacking is explicitly prohibited through some of these rebate apps, such as Hopster,” she said. “If we notice blog posts or social shares around ‘stacked’ offers that reflect inaccurate or misleading information, we will, like in the instance with I Heart Natural Deals, ask that the post be taken down.”

The company’s reaction started to raise more questions than answers. Hopster is a “rebate app”? Is it okay to stack offers – as long as you don’t write about it online for “the masses” to discover? And how much of any of this is really “illegal”, “prohibited”, “misleading” or “abusive”, and how much of it is just Marley Coffee trying to prevent savvy saving that it enabled, but decided it doesn’t like?

Rebate apps like Ibotta, Checkout 51 and Shrink are still relatively new, and still kind of uncharted waters for many brands. Late last year, the Coupon Information Corporation industry group formed a committee to study and issue recommendations regarding security, fraud, auditing – and stacking – in rebate apps. Some brands believe you shouldn’t be able to use a coupon, and submit for multiple rebates on one purchase, any more than you would be allowed to redeem multiple manufacturer’s coupons on a single item. To others, combining cash-back offers is no different than combining a manufacturer’s coupon, a store coupon, an in-store promotion or any other legally stackable offers.

So far, most rebate apps are on the side of the latter. Only SavingStar officially does not allow combining a coupon with a rebate on the same item. There’s little or nothing it can do to enforce it, though company representatives have been known to contact coupon bloggers who advocate combining deals, to remind them of the rule.

But there are no such prohibitions in the terms and conditions of Ibotta, Checkout 51, Shrink or – despite what Marley Coffee said – on Hopster. Marley’s Hopster coupon includes the standard wording that it is “not to be combined with any other coupons,” but it makes no mention of rebate apps.

“We find it a little odd that Marley specifically said that it does not work that way,” an Ibotta representative told Coupons in the News. “Unless they specifically state you can not combine discounts with the rebate, you are allowed to.”

So Marley Coffee is trying to take matters into its own hands and act unilaterally. “We are now in the process of pausing one of those offers because of this issue,” the company representative said. And indeed, this week, the Marley offers disappeared from both Ibotta and Checkout 51. And the Shrink offer now contains wording that “this offer shall NOT be combined with manufacturer’s coupons or mobile rebates.”

And that’s not all, according to the Marley representative. “We also are making amendments to our terms and conditions that these coupons will not be allowed when retailers are running in-store discounts.”

Wait – so you can’t even use a coupon when the product is on sale at your local store? “We wouldn’t be able to offer discounts or be able to keep a sustainable business by selling coffee at $2.00 a bag,” the company representative explained.

If this is starting to sound convoluted, as though the company doesn’t actually want you to use the offers it’s making available all over the place, there’s a simple solution. “If you do not want people to stack the offers, you have the choice to offer either a coupon, or one offer on one app,” I Heart Natural Deals‘ Melissa said. “Coupon blogs have been around for years and their purpose is to find and stack these types of deals. If a brand puts out multiple offers, they have to expect that it will be shared on these blogs.”

Especially if those multiple offers, and the platforms on which they’re presented, say nothing about prohibiting stacking. “We are working towards adding language to all our offerings to clearly state whether or not there is a stacking policy in relation to the specific offer,” Tran said. But some disgruntled customers may not be inclined to stick around to check out the new policies, after being accused of “abusing” the company’s offers.

So Marley Coffee ended up giving away a lot of free product last week. But in terms of public opinion, the company’s misconceptions about rebate apps’ stacking policies, its apparent hope that cashiers will scrutinize your coupons to see if you can use them when the product is on sale, and its haste to accuse stackers of cheating the company, may turn out to be much more costly in the end.

5 Comments

  1. larry iarossi says:

    Hysterical, people are mad that they can’t get a great product for free….hahaha
    How would you like to work all week and at the end of the week your employer came up to you and said that there was a coupon and a giveaway for free work hours . So you don’t get paid for the week…boy, wouldn’t that be something… no one ever said that employers couldn’t do it…they just clipped out of a news paper and then doubled down on a phone app….Get over it. Marley Coffee does a lot of wonderful things for others for a small corporation. Do your own due diligence and find out about them.

  2. I had planned on making a trip to the only store in a 20 mile radius that carried Marley coffee, because I have a coupon and saw a rebate offer. Now, I have lost interest in trying this coffee. There are many brands of coffee available for purchase, meaning there is no need for me to spend any amount of money or effort to purchase from a company that behaves in this fashion.

  3. Marley needs to reevaluate their marketing strategy if they are going to go after coupon bloggers for stacking sales, coupons, and apps. Like Andrew said, I would have never purchased a box of K-cups for $9.49. Seeing it on sale at Kroger along with an Ibotta rebate and digital Kroger coupon motivated me to give it a try. The coffee is good, but not $9.49 a box good.

  4. Instances like this are a good reminder (especially for those who work in the middle of digital promotions) that most trading partners (and the industry in general) are still in an early phase of development, where practices are being established, mistakes are being made and (hopefully) lessons are being learned.

    It wasn’t too long ago that manipulating organic search results was easy; music wasn’t “stealing” so much as it was just free and widely shared, and early bloggers became celebrities because the platform didn’t really exist at scale yet.

    In other words, entire cottage industries were built around niche digital plays. It will happen here, too. Eventually. Please. I’m so tired of calling the space “fragmented.”

  5. Marley has exhibited a lot of naivete over the last year or so. Such a stack was the reason I decided to pickup a box of this, which is expensive, and rarely on sale. My wife really enjoyed it, and I have purchased several additional boxes since then. The kicker is that the free stack I used happened over 1 year ago. I can’t remember the precise details, but I believe it involved Shrink, Snap, and Checkout51 or Ibotta at the time. This is not new, and it’s interesting that Marley is just now realizing that providing 3+ simultaneous, overlapping offers might be problematic for their promotional budgets.

    I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised though, they were also offering supposedly targeted printable PDF coupons with long expiration dates on their website during 2015. I believe they were intended as a follow through promotion for a local sports team at which Marley had done advertising. However, a Google search for “Marley Coffee Coupon” linked you straight to the PDF without any need to sign-up for their emails or see the follow-through promotion. Luckily for them, this is a specialty product with limited appeal and offering a $2 PDF coupon was not likely to attract outrageous abuse when a 12-CT K-Cup box of coffee is $9+ regularly.

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