publix photo


Is it a story of shoppers denied the ability to get a legitimate good deal, or a tale of greedy couponers taking advantage of a major screwup? Last Friday’s story “Mind-Boggling Moneymakers Cause Chaos and Controversy” didn’t take sides, neither encouraging nor discouraging those looking to get in on the action (and if you thought it did, dear reader, you may be the one who’s biased one way or the other). But now, one thing’s for certain – Publix’s ill-conceived confluence of promotions this past week, and its ham-handed efforts to rectify its own mistake, are going to end up costing the retailer a whole lot of money.

During its current weekly sale, which features a so-called “moneymaker” of up to $20 per transaction, the Florida-based grocer has changed course several times about whether it will allow the deal to be done at all. Now, in the waning days of the sale that ends tomorrow in the six Southern states where Publix operates (or today, in some regions), the retailer has finally come up with a solution.

It will allow the deal, will issue rain checks for those who’ve missed out – and will probably end up paying dearly for it.

In stores like Publix whose policies allow “overage”, or cash back when the value of your coupons is greater than the price of the products you purchase, certain coupon-and-sale combinations are often highlighted as “moneymakers” on coupon blogs and online message boards. For those who seek out such deals, it’s usually just a happy coincidence when a high-value manufacturer’s coupon is available at the same time that a store puts an item on sale.

In Publix’s case, it was less a coincidence than it was a massive oversight. The store is currently offering three overlapping promotions – a sale on several items, a $5 instant rebate and a $5 store coupon – that makes Lipton tea bags and Fruttare fruit bars “better than free” (see Friday’s story for details about the deal). It’s a scenario entirely of Publix’s own making, that doesn’t involve any manufacturer’s coupons at all.

When eager shoppers raided stores and cleared the shelves on the first day of the sale last week, Publix scrambled to come up with a response before it restocked and fed the frenzy. Managers were first left to their own devices, to issue limits at their discretion. But many shoppers ended up complaining that individual stores were making up their own rules in conflict with Publix’s posted policies.

So then, Publix came up with a corporate solution. “In an effort to provide the best opportunity for the majority of our customers to benefit from these stellar deals,” Publix spokesperson Maria Brous told Coupons in the News last week, “stores are limiting quantity deals and we are also limiting the $5.00 off coupon to two per household, per day.”


That also didn’t sit well with some shoppers, who found that the limits kept them from being able to purchase $15 worth of participating products needed to receive the instant rebate – and who felt that Publix shouldn’t be making an exception to its usual policy of eight like coupons per day, just because this particular deal happened to be popular.

So over the weekend, Publix gave in and decided to hand out free money to anyone who wanted it.

“Due to overwhelming feedback from our customers,” Publix announced euphemistically, “we decided to remove these limitations and now there is a maximum of 8 coupons allowed.” In addition, stores “should allow customers to purchase enough product to meet the $15 minimum.”

The corporate office then issued instructions to its stores on how to handle the situation. “In some scenarios, stacking these offers will result in money due back at the end of a transaction,” an internal memo acknowledged. Publix also created a complex, custom-made rain check, so those faced with empty shelves can still get in on the deal any time over the next 30 days.

So as Publix restocks its supplies of Lipton and Fruttare, it will continue handing out money to rain check-bearing shoppers for at least the next month – becoming more like an ATM than a grocery store.

That’s one expensive weekly ad – and an expensive lesson in the dangers of overlapping promotions, which shoppers are sure to sniff out before the stores do.

“We appreciate your understanding as we work to improve our processes and fulfill our customers’ needs,” Publix told customers. And surely Publix appreciates your understanding that it can’t wait for this sale to be over – and that it may be a very, very long time before Lipton or Fruttare sell for anything less than full price.

Photo by brownpau


  1. Free (or pay me) Popsicle/Fudgsicle this week with the same $5/2 Publix Coupon.

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