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Double Coupons

Double coupons are officially over the hill – and in some areas, they’re fading fast. It’s an interesting time to be commemorating the 40th anniversary of this money-saving perk, because the very grocery chain that claims to have invented double coupons may become the one that finally kills them off.

To mark the first anniversary of Coupons in the News, a series that began here earlier this week on the 40th anniversary of “couponing” now looks to a promotion that helped turn couponing into a craze (click here to read other stories in the series).

Manufacturer’s coupons were always good for the grocery business, because they got shoppers into the stores. And the stores didn’t lose any money, since the manufacturers reimbursed them for the value of the coupons. But what if the store owners decided to dip into their own pocket and make it all a little more interesting?

The precise birth date of double coupons is hard to pin down. A curious Kroger advertisement from 1995 claims that “Kroger invented double coupons”. But today, Kroger representatives claim no institutional memory of having invented them at all. “This question comes up from time to time,” Kroger spokesman Glynn Jenkins once told Coupons in the News, “however, unfortunately, no one can confirm when double coupons began.”

But in August 1976, the Washington Post reported that “double and even triple couponing has been going on in such cities as Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles and in the New York-New Jersey area for the last 18 months.” Given that time frame, and given where Kroger had stores then, it would appear that double couponing may have originated in Kroger stores in the Detroit area in late 1973.

Some shoppers claim to have vague memories of double couponing before then, but that Kroger ad and the Post article are the only real evidence we’ve got at this point. Feel free to share your memories if you recall doubling your coupons before then!

Either way, even if double coupons were invented a bit earlier, it was 1973 or thereabouts that they became something of a craze. “In Detroit the situation got so bad, some stores had to close in order to restock,” the Post reported. “It was impossible to move in the aisles, they were so crowded with shoppers.” An executive with the former Philadelphia-based grocery chain Pantry Pride called double coupons “useful and costly. We do lose money on it, but we hope to create a lot of people coming in, getting to know us, where the toilet paper is, where the vegetables are, and then staying.”

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Other grocery chains experimented with “coupon-and-a-half” promotions, offering an additional 50% off the face value of coupons. But imagine doing that math on a regular basis, before bar codes and scanners did the work for us. Still other supermarkets tried triple coupons, but many regretted it. “You murder yourself with triple coupons,” one grocery manager told the Post.

So, as most did away with the “coupon-and-a-half” math, and some continued tripling sporadically, many grocery chains settled on double coupons. And the limited-time perk slowly became a regularly-offered routine. The promotion that once packed them into a Detroit Kroger, became an expected part of the grocery shopping experience.

And to many grocers’ regret. “Like airlines and their frequent flier programs, they canโ€™t get themselves out of it,” a marketing executive said of grocery stores and their double coupon programs in 1992. “They are sorry they are in double coupons, because it comes out of their profits,” he told the Washington Post.

It took four decades for Kroger to bite the bullet and begin reversing itself on the desirability of doubles. One after another this past year, various Kroger regions in the country have begun eliminating double coupons in favor of lower prices across the board – most recently just this week (read: “Kroger Keeps on Killing Doubles”). In a news release announcing that change in its Central Region, Kroger practically declared doubles obsolete: “Double coupons originated decades ago, in an era when none of the current online and electronic coupon options were available to customers and smartphones did not exist. Kroger will continue to evolve to meet the expectations of 21st century shoppers.”

No wonder Kroger has conveniently forgotten its earlier claim of having invented the practice.

“Our plan is to save shoppers money… Part of our new program is to cut out the coupons. We’d rather pass the savings directly along to the customer through lower prices.” A quote from Kroger in 2013? No, that would be from Chicago-based Dominick’s in 1975. As its rival Jewel introduced double coupons to Chicago, Dominick’s resisted.

It eventually relented, offering double coupon promotions from time to time, as the draw of doubles proved too hard to resist. For others, though, the perk is easier to resist – and these days, reverse. Some four decades after introducing the idea, only time will tell whether Kroger’s move toward doing away with doubles is a bump in the road – or a nail in the coffin.

Coming tomorrow: Couponing Becomes Cool – couponers come out of the shadows, to show that being a savvy shopper is simply smart.

6 Comments

  1. I have contacted so many stores in chicago southside and no one has double coupon days ๐Ÿ™ I wish i could find a store that did.

  2. Pingback: Grocery store chains ditch coupon doubling, introduce digital coupons

  3. Pingback: Grocery store chains ditch coupon doubling, introduce digital coupons - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (blog) - Coupon News Alert

  4. Doubles in the Chicago area I have never seen it there and here in the Detroit Area The Farmer Jack chain started ‘Coupon and a half’ in 1976 then A&P,Chathams,Wrigleys and Great Scott began doubles Krogers threw TRIPLES that week but did not double here until 1983 whe I was working for the company.we still have doubles today but they are not advertised in their ads (Kroger or Meijers) The other chains mentioned are long gone

  5. Interestingly, though, in the Boston area, both Shaw’s and Stop and Shop’s ads last week had big WE DOUBLE COUPONS UP TO 99 CENTS bits. The past 6 months, since I started tutoring on couponing, I have constantly needed to tell people about the coupon doubling – almost no one around here knew that either of them did it. Then the past two weeks (coinciding with Shaw’s ending the card savings), both of them have really been pushing the heck out of it.

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