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If you buy coupons online, did your favorite seller have a little less to offer this past week? If you sell coupons online, did your supplier come up a little short?

Many people who sell coupons online, get their inserts from “sources” all over the country. But several sellers reported that they were not able to get their regular supply of coupon inserts from the Los Angeles area last weekend, when Procter & Gamble’s brandSAVER was published. The sellers came up with various explanations and excuses for the shortfall. But the real explanation could be that the coupon publishers are catching onto what they’re doing – and working harder to stop them.

“California ended up not getting early PG inserts!” one Facebook coupon seller told followers last week. “Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the warehouse will not have P&G this week. It is not available to any supplier or anything in Southern California,” an Instagram insert seller wrote. “PG has gone digital in Los Angeles,” a third seller concluded.

Gone digital? Nice try. Newspaper subscribers and newsstand shoppers had no trouble getting their P&G inserts in their papers last weekend. So why did so many resellers have such a hard time – and why from Los Angeles in particular?

“I work with many suppliers and have been in contact with every single one of them since Sunday as soon as I heard that there were no P&G,” one seller wrote on Instagram. “I just received my last confirmation from the last supplier confirming that there are no P&G in the warehouse.”

The insert providers won’t confirm, but neither will they deny, that it’s all because they planned it that way.

Coupon sales have become a big business in recent years, with the largest sellers offering thousands and even tens of thousands of inserts each week. Most no longer bother to pretend that they’re getting all of these coupons by buying tens of thousands of individual copies of the Sunday newspaper and pulling out the inserts themselves – especially since many sellers get their inserts days before the Sunday paper comes out, and many get them from out of state. Instead, the inserts come from “suppliers” who are walking out of warehouses with pallets of coupon inserts that are intended to be included in newspapers or home-delivered advertising supplements.

In short, the coupon industry points out, most of the bulk inserts that are offered for sale online are very likely stolen property.

So coupon publishers and local newspapers have been trying to stop this illicit flow of inserts from warehouses to sellers. A couple of years ago, more than a dozen newspapers across the country offered a reward for information about anyone obtaining “quantities of coupon inserts through unauthorized methods”. They tried removing inserts from some local newspapers and delivering them via mail instead. And police got involved in at least a couple of recent cases, when four people were arrested in connection with the theft of inserts from a South Carolina newspaper distribution facility, and a police officer was charged with helping himself to inserts from a Rhode Island newspaper distribution facility, and giving them to his wife to sell online.

But all of these efforts did little to stop the flow of coupon inserts into suppliers’ and sellers’ hands. So suspicion began turning to other potential problem areas – not local newspaper distribution centers, but separate facilities that bundle and prepare advertising supplements for home delivery. This past August, a former employee of just such a facility was arrested in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He’s accused of taking more than 100 bundles of ads and coupons that were meant to be included in a weekly ad supplement, and supplying them to a local coupon seller.

These ad supplements are typically the types that are tossed onto your driveway or stuffed into your mailbox. They’re a way for advertisers and coupon publishers to reach more consumers, particularly those who don’t already receive the ads and coupons by subscribing to their local newspaper.

One such supplement in the Los Angeles area is the “California Weekend Direct”. Its name often features prominently on the spine of many inserts offered by online coupon sellers (see the inset in the image above, from an insert seller based in Florida – quite a distance from California).

That particular seller is one of many that is not currently offering P&G brandSAVERs from the California Weekend Direct, or from anywhere in Los Angeles. Could it be, then, that those empty warehouses this past week belonged to the distributor of the California Weekend Direct? And if so – why?

Valassis, which distributes the P&G inserts, declined to “discuss specific clients or situations” in a statement to Coupons in the News. But it admitted putting into practice “a comprehensive security process to ensure appropriate levels of protection and security are provided throughout the distribution process. When warranted, Valassis, in cooperation with its partners and clients, will take appropriate action to address or eliminate identified sources of potential security breaches.”

“Appropriate action”, as in, declining to deliver brandSAVER inserts to a facility whose product is known to end up in the hands of online coupon sellers? Valassis wouldn’t say.

The head of CIPS Marketing Group, which distributes the California Weekend Direct, also declined to discuss his company’s relations with specific advertisers. But he acknowledged that coupon providers are becoming increasingly concerned about the illicit distribution of their inserts – and that preventing them from falling into the wrong hands isn’t always easy. “It always surprises me that there’s a black market for this,” CIPS President & CEO Manuel Collazo told Coupons in the News. “We’ve probably been involved in half a dozen conversations about coupon insert security. The coupon advertisers want more security all the time.”

So how secure were the inserts pictured in the inset above, that apparently came from his warehouse? “We’re constantly trying to upgrade security, but we’re working in a facility that wasn’t built yesterday,” he conceded.

The lack of available P&G inserts in Los Angeles certainly got many sellers’ attention this past week. But several of them simply turned to other sources in other parts of the country to obtain their inserts. So the problem is one that the industry won’t be able to solve by simply shutting off the supply from just one city.

But it’s a start. So the next time large-scale insert sellers report they’re having a hard time getting their illicitly-obtained coupons from a certain part of the country, it may be more by design than coincidence. And if it gets to the point that the sellers begin to rethink their line of work – well, perhaps that’s precisely the point.

7 Comments

  1. This is a dumb story. Regional info or periodical names never appear on the spine of the P&G Insert. These enforcement efforts are just a guess tactic whereby all that is accomplished is regular subscribers are denied their inserts in some experiment that less inserts are leaked higher up in the distribution channel. They cross their fingers with big hopes and then pat themselves on the back for effort that cannot be confirmed. Whose problem is it if those advertisers that are contracted with can’t be trusted? Normal consumers are punished instead. Manufacturers have always been two-faced. They want the sales but at the same time they have compliance and lawyer teams like Trump tactic that shake down supermarkets and usage habits of consumers to justify existence as if there really can be something down when 100,000’s of coupons are printed and they are holding on to dream that 3rd party interests can limit users to one coupon per customer.

    Better off flooding the market so there is no profit to be made

    • Honest Couponer says:

      Jerry — that paragraph you posted is about the most illogical piece of nonsense I’ve ever seen! And that’s saying something when you look at what A Penny Saved posted! Look, it’s real simple: People are diverting and stealing pallets of coupon books from the newspaper companies, then profiting by selling them. In addition to that being an obvious crime, it also results in the coupon books not being available for the honest people who just want one coupon book in their Sunday paper. This has nothing to do with Trump tactics or two-faced companies. Are you kidding me??? It is all about ethical behavior and wanting to see your marketing budget used effectively.

      • Well I can give you a Trump style WRONG. I think your name is Honest Couponer Shill. You are not reading the article. It basically describes how consumers are being deprived of insert through advert drops based on mere dumb suspicion that someone in the distribution channel is stealing. These are papers that are having subscription cancelled and readers deprived in hopes that the inserts are not sold elsewhere. These are companies that have agreement with insert providers. If they had proof that someone was stealing the party would be caught, fired, and/or prosecuted. Instead they are guessing an in effect limiting supply and increasing profitability for others to illegally sell as you suggest. They tried to limit sales of big internet sellers on the net and found to their dismay that most are legally full-paying subscribers to periodicals who are exercising their right to dispose of their purchased property in any manner they please. They are two-faced. As I said they distributed 100,000’s of inserts per region and cheat supermarkets out of reimbursement based on dumb phrase like “no gang cut” like they are going to send coupons to crime lab while customer at the checkout and try to extend their definition of coupon fraud to housewives that might collect extra inserts from neighbors to save a few dollars.

  2. @A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned ~ No these coupon stealers and sellers are not out there selling meth but that doesnt make what theyre doing any less of a crime. Do we say that shoplifting is perfectly okay because hey all theyre doing is a little theft its hardly murder. No we do not say that. These coupon criminals are stealing valuable commodities and it is wrong. I will be very, very happy to see these people shut down and perhaps one day couponing wont be looked down upon and my honestly acquired coupons wont be viewed with suspicion. Ohh and perhaps you should show a little respect and curtail that bad language of yours. Also put your brain into gear next time you think about opening that beautiful mouth of yours.

  3. A penny saved is a penny earned says:

    All I can say is you’re fucking dumb. You act like these people are out here selling meth they’re just trying to make a small living off of fucking selling coupon states should make it legal and collect taxes off of it like they do everything else

    • Brian Ellison says:

      Funny how people resort to vile language when they really have no point to make because they have no foundation to stand on in their arguments. What a filthy mouth you have, Penny! How proud you should be that that is the extent of your “intelligence”.

  4. Honest Couponer says:

    Nice story! Maybe, just maybe, all of these devious people who are receiving mass quantities of diverted and stolen coupon inserts will finally realize that what they are doing is CRIMINAL ACTIVITY! Might I also suggest to each of them that they consider transitioning into an honest line of work!?

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