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The coupon industry discourages people from selling coupons, especially printables. Not only does it violate the terms printed on the coupons, but it makes them susceptible to fraud and misuse. “Never pay money for a coupon,” the Coupon Information Corporation industry watchdog group states unequivocally.

But apparently, when coupon providers themselves sell coupons, that’s perfectly okay!

A Canadian coupon site is courting controversy with a new service that charges users who want printable coupons mailed to them. Visitors to webSaver.ca can view a selection of print-at-home coupons valid in Canadian stores. But users who can’t or don’t want to print the coupons themselves can visit the new website ZebraCoupons.com, which launched last week. On that site, you can browse the same list of printable coupons, plus printable coupons provided by SmartSource. You then select the ones you like and have them mailed to you, for a $2 fee.

Oh, but you’re not paying for the coupons – you’re paying a “convenience fee” for the paper, printing and postage.

That sounds an awful lot like what most online coupon sellers say – an explanation that the coupon industry rejects.

“The sale or transfer of coupons is a violation of virtually all manufacturers’ coupon redemption policies,” the CIC advises. “Individuals selling or auctioning coupons… may include an invalid disclaimer, such as, ‘I’m selling my time to clip the coupons, not the coupons themselves’… Such obviously invalid disclaimers merely serve to prove that the seller/auctioneer knows that their illicit coupon sales are inappropriate, wrong, and subject to civil and/or criminal penalties.” Coupons.com has even sued online sellers who peddle its printable coupons.

So is webSaver.ca – a legitimate coupon provider that has legitimate business relationships with many major grocery brands – running a completely illegitimate operation on the side?

Company representatives have not responded to requests for comment. But they’ve been awfully chatty on their Facebook page, in response to numerous questions and criticisms from customers, some of whom are castigating the company over the new service.

“Pay for coupons??? Are you kidding????” one commenter wrote. “How do we save money if we are spending $2 to get coupons?” asked another.

“To be absolutely clear, you are NOT paying for coupons,” webSaver.ca replied. “The fee is for the convenience of having us print the coupons for you, in color, on coupon paper, and mail them to you. That’s all.”

Another commenter called shenanigans on that explanation: “We all know that the only difference between ‘paying for coupons’ and ‘paying for the delivery of coupons’ is a nitpicking technicality.” Yet another commenter took issue with the price: “Are you FEDEXing the coupons? Come on – $2.00 to mail out an envelope! You’re making money off the fee – stop trying to make it look like it’s all going to postage.”

What’s especially curious is, before it began offering to mail printable coupons, webSaver.ca used to mail regular coupons upon request – free of charge. So longtime users are wondering why postage and handling is so cost-prohibitive now, when it apparently wasn’t before.

The whole situation is somewhat reminiscent of Coupons.com’s onetime effort to get people to pay for coupons – er, pay for membership in a “club” that offered higher-value coupons.

Launched in 2011 and discontinued two years later, the “Coupons.com Savings Club” promised access to a premium set of printable coupons that had higher values than the ones on the free Coupons.com site. Customers could join for $3 per month, or $30 a year.

And Coupons.com didn’t even try to hide behind the “postage and handling” excuse – it essentially admitted that customers were paying to get coupons that were not available to those who wouldn’t pay. “The Savings Club is an instance where it makes sense to spend a little to save even more,” Coupons.com’s designated savings expert Jeanette Pavini was quoted as saying in a news release about the program.

The CIC disagrees. “It simply does not make sense to pay for something that is given away for free,” it advises anyone who considers paying for coupons.

As for webSaver.ca, it claims that thousands of coupons have already been ordered by satisfied customers. “We’ve received many supportive direct messages from people who don’t have a printer, can’t print, ran out ink, or just like the fact that someone else will print and mail them coupons,” the company said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about offering a choice.”

Or, at the end of the day, it’s all about muddying the waters with a mixed message. By selectively supporting one paid coupon service, the message from the coupon industry is clear – paying for coupons, or for someone’s time or postage in providing those coupons, is not permitted. Unless, that is, webSaver.ca and the companies whose coupons it offers say it is. So if you’ve ever wondered whether it’s okay to pay for coupons, there’s your answer – it apparently depends on whom you ask. And who’s doing the selling.

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