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“Rain checks are a couponer’s best friend!” several bloggers and coupon instructors have advised. But at one major grocery chain, that friendship is over.

Kroger-owned, North Carolina-based Harris Teeter has announced an unusual and possibly unprecedented policy change that has couponers crying foul. Beginning on March 29th, you can still ask for a rain check if a promoted product is out of stock, to get it at the same price at a later date. But according to a revised coupon policy published on Wednesday, “Rainchecks cannot be combined with any paper coupon for the same item, effective 3/29/2017.”

So if you have a coupon for a product that’s on sale, but out of stock, you can get a rain check – but when you redeem your rain check, you won’t be able to use your coupon. You’ll just get the sale price, period.

Noncouponers may wonder what the big deal is. But couponers want to know why they should have to pay more for a product, just because the store couldn’t keep it in stock?

“We are revising our Raincheck policy to expedite checkout and ensure we have more grocery items in the store, when our shoppers need them,” is the official explanation, according to a statement provided to Coupons in the News by Harris Teeter spokesperson Danna Robinson. “We understand change takes some getting used to; this policy change reinforces our commitment to be in-stock.”

That sounds like a reasonable explanation, at first blush. But “this is a policy change that is evoking a huge negative reaction,” WRAL-TV’s “Smart Shopper” Faye Prosser told Coupons in the News. Prosser follows Harris Teeter closely, as a coupon instructor and as the Raleigh, North Carolina television station’s dedicated coupon expert. After posting news of the policy change on her blog yesterday afternoon, she heard from readers who are confused about what exactly Harris Teeter hopes to accomplish with this policy change. Will it really help to ensure that products remain in stock?

“It will likely have the opposite effect of clearing out shelves as soon as the sale starts,” Prosser predicted. “Shoppers will want to get the items before they are gone, knowing that even if they get a rain check, they will not be able to use it with a coupon as they would during the week of the sale.”

After all, rain checks are most often needed when there’s a big sale, and a valuable coupon available, at the same time. Avaricious shoppers with loads of coupons have been known to rush to the store on the first day of a sale and clear the shelves. That leaves other shoppers who had hoped to get in on the deal, stuck with a rain check.

But under the new policy, couponers who might have settled for a rain check will now be inclined to join the rush to the store on the first day of the sale, to try to beat the shelf-clearers. So while the more extreme couponers fight it out, the everyday couponers will miss out.

And those everyday couponers aren’t happy. Harris Teeter’s Facebook page has been flooded with complaints and concerns, ever since the new policy was announced.

“To ban the use of coupons with rain checks is asinine… It makes no sense to punish your customers for your inability to stock your stores,” one commenter wrote. “I do not understand how my coupon is good on Monday, when you have no stock, but not good 2 weeks later when your shelves are full and I have a raincheck in hand. This new policy is preposterous,” another added. “Clearly you did not think this through, and it shows that you are out of touch with your shoppers,” a third commenter wrote.

It’s also not clear how the new policy will “expedite checkout”. Items bought with a rain check have to be scanned at the checkout like any other. So if a shopper has coupons for those items mixed up in a stack of coupons, it will take an extra observant – and possibly extra slow – cashier to weed them out.

There’s an argument to be made that the change might be aimed at shoppers who actually try to get rain checks. If there’s a good sale, but no coupon available, why not stalk the shelves until the product is gone, then get a rain check and wait for a big coupon to come along? Or if you do have coupons, you can grab a rain check and save those coupons for one of Harris Teeter’s special Super Doubles or Triple Coupon events, to get a much better deal than you would during the actual sale week.

So Harris Teeter made another tweak to the policy, also effective March 29th. Incredibly, until now, Harris Teeter rain checks never expired. Ever. Now, they’ll be valid for 60 days from the date of issue, and existing rain checks with no expiration dates will have to be used by May 31st.

“I can understand that decision,” Prosser said. “It’s in line with many other stores and prevents shoppers from hoarding rain checks and using them for years to come.”

Some shoppers actually appear to be pleased with the changes. “This is a common sense policy that makes those of us who don’t coupon and stack and all that get checked out much more quickly!” one Facebook commenter wrote. “I watched a woman come back over and over once, getting free stuff with handfuls of rain checks. She abused the policy and it deserves to be ended!”

Some are even saying that shoppers should be thankful that Harris Teeter offers rain checks at all. But that’s not due to Harris Teeter’s generosity – it’s the law. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s “Unavailability Rule”, grocery stores cannot advertise prices for products they don’t have in stock, unless they can show they had enough product to meet “reasonably anticipated demand”, or if they offer comparable products or compensation – like rain checks.

So all grocery stores have rain check policies. But as of next week, none of them will be quite like Harris Teeter’s. So many once-loyal Harris Teeter customers are promising to do more of their shopping at competitors with more forgiving rain check and coupon policies. And in fiercely competitive North Carolina, there are many, many other grocery shopping options.

“With Publix, Lidl, Wegmans and Sprouts entering the market, you would think that they would initiate policies that make them more competitive and not less,” Prosser said of Harris Teeter. “Maybe they feel that by discouraging the serious couponers, there will be more product for the noncouponers who are willing to pay more for the same product. Only time will tell if it is the right move for them.”

And with less than a week to go until the new policies take effect, gauging their impact on angry couponers with plenty of other places to shop, may not take very long at all.

Image source: Harris Teeter

3 Comments

  1. Miss Kitty says:

    Harris Teeter is acting like they have no competition. I think we all know what’s coming.

  2. Limiting how you pay for a rain check item in the future, especially if there is a coupon at the time of the sale is not comparable compensation. Therefore the rain check does not meet the statute.

    • Correct. Harris Teeter is breaking federal law. NC also has a state law entitling us to triple damages. A disastrous reaction is upcoming. I happened across this website today and am just getting started in my approach to all this. Anyone can contact me at qc1okay@juno.com

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