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As a “value brand”, Arm & Hammer laundry detergent is not too expensive. But when you can buy it on sale, with a coupon, it’s even better. If you can find a coupon, that is.

Many shoppers who were looking for Arm & Hammer coupons in their SmartSource insert this past weekend were surprised to instead find a full-page ad featuring a selection of what looked kind of like coupons, but actually weren’t. Instead, the ad directed you to the Arm & Hammer website or “your preferred store app” to access printable or digital coupons instead.

“Why did they stop putting it in the papers?” one member of an online couponing group asked. “They tricked us,” another complained. “I thought I had the real deal. I was making big haul plans.”

The move comes a few years after competitor Procter & Gamble began doing the same with Tide and Gain coupons in certain regions’ inserts, first by blanking them out, then by clumsily replacing the coupons with mock-ups stamped “NOT A COUPON” and providing instructions on how to access coupons online instead.

So are your trusty weekly coupon inserts in danger of becoming just another advertising flyer, with ads and plugs for companies’ websites, but without any actual coupons?

In this case, it’s all part of a plan. Arm & Hammer manufacturer Church & Dwight addressed the change in its couponing and promotion strategy just last week. “We are pulling back on promotions,” Chief Financial Officer Rick Dierker told investors on Thursday. “What you’re seeing in the laundry category is promotions being peeled back and you’re seeing coupon reductions.”

CEO Matthew Farrell noted that the average amount of detergent sold at a discounted price last year was about 40%. This year, only 34% of Arm & Hammer detergent is sold on promotion, which means two-thirds of shoppers are paying full price for it. “And we plan to reduce promotional levels more in the coming quarters,” he said.

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So don’t be surprised to see more “NOT A COUPON” Arm & Hammer offers in your Sunday inserts in the coming months.

At least there are still printable and digital offers, though. On the day its ad appeared, Arm & Hammer released a set of print-at-home coupons, together with digital load-to-card versions available at various retailers. The company likely hopes to limit the coupons’ use this way – the printable offers can only be printed twice, while the digital offers can only be used once, and both are only valid for a few weeks. Insert coupons, in contrast, usually have longer expiration dates, and shoppers who use insert coupons can use as many as they can get their hands on – and some determined shoppers tend to get their hands on a lot of them.

With big Arm & Hammer sales like one at Walgreens this week, Arm & Hammer insert coupons are often in high demand. Walgreens’ weekly ad promotes Arm & Hammer detergent as being on sale for $1.99, “or 99¢ with card and $1 off coupon”. With digital and printable coupon users limited in how many coupons they can access, they find themselves limited in how many discounted detergents they can buy.

“Who has Arm & Hammer coupons? I need them ASAP,” one coupon group member pleaded. “There are NO paper coupons out,” the desperate shopper was told. “Most fairies didn’t get them.”

“Fairies” is shorthand for those who sell insert coupons online. Some shoppers looking for a quick way to stock up on coupons for in-demand items like Arm & Hammer detergent turn to online sellers, many or most of whom obtain their coupons using questionable means. But this week, unsuspecting customers could find themselves wasting their money by paying for “NOT A COUPON” coupons.

So some shoppers eager for 99-cent bottles of detergent are getting desperate. Some are seeking out printable coupon sellers, many of whom also use questionable means to obtain their supply. Others are buying counterfeits. A number of fraudulent Arm & Hammer detergent coupons that have been in circulation for a while, are making the rounds again with new expiration dates. The Coupon Information Corporation has added several Arm & Hammer fakes back onto its list of known counterfeit coupons, alerting retailers to watch out for them.

So Church & Dwight’s efforts to tighten up the coupon supply could backfire in a way, if its not-a-coupon coupons boost the business of printable coupon or counterfeit coupon sellers. But remember, the company says it’s cutting back on promotions too. So you may not see Arm & Hammer detergent offered for just 99 cents again for quite a while – which could dampen the demand for coupons among frugal shoppers looking to combine coupons with sales.

And then even more than two-thirds of Arm & Hammer customers may well end up paying full price for their detergent. If so, “not a coupon” coupons could become a trend that we haven’t seen the last of yet.

5 Comments

  1. This is such a racket.
    Even if we’re lucky enough to find the coupons in the Sunday paper, the expiration date is usually approaching fast.
    Then they want us to purchase two or more when we need only one.
    Our whole culture is wasting so much and creating so much waste that we’re choking ourselves out of our homes and our planet.

    Incidentally, I was with a friend in the hospital when a doctor came in to discharge her. He told her to continue pain meds at home, using over-the-counter products such as Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, etc. She told him she had just tossed out some Tylenol because the expiration date had been reached. He said, no, no, don’t do that. The meds are still good for a long time after the date, even a year or two. The date thing is a marketing tool. It is meant for us to buy more. He said if anything “wrong” were to happen, it is only the loss of some of the strength of the medication.

  2. Kudos to the manufacturers! NO ONE needs to purchase 50, 75, 100 bottles of laundry soap (or anything else for that matter).

    • True, but by completely removing them some may not even be able to get one or two, as not everyone has a way to print coupons or the time to run back for a second one when it doesn’t allow the second printing at the same time.
      Not to mention the extra costs for printing coupons that you don’t incur when they come in the paper (which costs the same amount with one coupon or 100 in it).

  3. Bonnie S says:

    This has been the case in my area for years. This week’s Saturday/Sunday paper had less than 1/4 of its content devoted to actual coupons. Our inserts are loaded with Dollar General, Family Dollar, and ads for send away products. P&G fliers advertise their products with little to none coupons. Always redirect you to the website where coupons are usually not available. It’s usually a waste of time. Food coupons are also never in our inserts. What is sent to my area is a big joke. High value coupons never make it to my area. We used to be able to buy the Pittsburgh papers in our area, but 2 years ago they announced that delivery to our town was being stopped due to cost. What options do I have left? I have to buy my coupons now, cutting their value sometimes by 50% as cutting services are over charging for them. Yet, your only paying for the clipping not the coupon, yet the value of the coupon definitely determines the price of each. As if they require more effort to clip.

  4. Actually, those particular coupons only printed once on Sunday (then showed up as print limit reached) but were available again today for another print.

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