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“The more you spend with us, the more Staples Rewards you’ll earn!” the office supply store promises customers. Unless you use coupons – then you stand to earn a lot less.

That’s according to a Staples shopper from New York who is suing the store, claiming that it’s cheating couponers out of their rightly-earned rewards.

Rewards members earn a percentage off qualifying purchases, which they can use as store credit to get a discount on future purchases. The amount of credit earned is calculated after coupons and other discounts are applied.

But in a federal lawsuit filed last week, Neil Torczyner challenges the way Staples reduces the value of rewards when coupons are used. He says the store prorates a coupon’s value across all items purchased, instead of applying it only to the product on which it was used. And that results in shoppers getting fewer rewards than they should.

Torczyner said he first noticed this back in February 2013. During a visit to Staples, he bought two packages of Lysol sanitizing wipes at $3.99 each. The wipes were part of a promotion offering 100% rewards, which made them essentially free.

But in the same transaction, Torczyner bought a case of Poland Spring water at $4.49, and used a coupon for $1.50 off the water. The water was ineligible for rewards, so the coupon shouldn’t have affected the total credit he was due – he expected to earn $7.98 in rewards for both packages of Lysol wipes, and none for the water.

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When he logged into his account on Staples’ website, however, he was unpleasantly surprised. His receipt showed the $1.50 coupon was correctly applied only to the water. But in the online record of the transaction, the value of the coupon was spread out among all three items he purchased that day, reducing his post-coupon rewards total from $7.98 to $7.02.

“By employing this deceptive method of calculating Rewards Points, Staples shorted its Members’ account credit,” the lawsuit reads. “It is simply unfair and deceptive to apply coupons redeemable only for non-qualifying purchases under the Program on a pro rata basis across all purchases made in the same transaction.”

Torczyner reviewed some of his previous purchases, and found that the same thing had happened. He went online to various couponing message boards, and found similar complaints from other shoppers, going back several years. Some of those shoppers said they were ultimately given the full value of their rewards, after bringing it to Staples’ attention – suggesting that Staples knew this was a problem, but did nothing to rectify it unless someone complained.

“Staples engaged in, and continues to engage in, an egregious misleading and deceptive practice designed to take advantage of its Members,” Torczyner’s lawsuit alleges.

Staples does mention that it prorates coupons, in its Rewards terms and conditions: “Product specific coupons are applied pro rata (proportionately allocated across all items purchased in a given transaction) for the purposes of calculating Qualifying Purchase Amount(s) for Rewards.”

But Torczyner doesn’t believe that makes it right. He’s seeking compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of himself, and all other Rewards members who may have been similarly affected. Staples has not yet issued a formal response to the charges.

So until this dispute is resolved, keep a close eye on your Staples Rewards balance. Because couponing can save you money – but using coupons at Staples could save you less than you think.

Photo by JeepersMedia

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