It’s one of those questions without a perfect answer – if you use a coupon when purchasing an item, and later return it, should you be refunded the item’s full price? Or should you only get back what you paid out of pocket?

For years, Target has gone with the first answer. Now it’s gone with the other.

“When you return any item, your return credit will not include any promotional discount or coupon that applied to the original order,” Target’s coupon policy now reads, after it was quietly updated this past week. That’s a change from the previous policy, which stated that “returns of items purchased using manufacturer coupons may receive coupon value returned in the form of a Target gift card.”

This now means that “guests who return an item that was purchased with a coupon will be refunded the price they paid for that item,” a Target spokesperson said in a statement to Coupons in the News. “For example, if an item was originally priced at $5 and a guest used a coupon to receive a $1 discount at purchase, they would receive a total refund of $4, the price they paid for the item, should they choose to return it.”

The policy change is in contrast to other major retailers like Walmart, whose coupon policy states that “returns of items purchased using manufacturer coupons may receive the coupon value returned in the original form of tender, thus providing the full purchase price back to the customer.” Walgreens, similarly, states that “returns for items purchased with a manufacturer’s coupon will be processed for the full price paid for the item, which includes the value of the coupon(s).”

But other retailers take the opposite approach, such as the grocery chains ShopRite, Hy-Vee and Hannaford, all of which use identical boilerplate wording in their policies to explain that they will “not refund the value of a coupon or return the coupon if a purchased item is later returned to the store.”


The rationale behind such policies is that coupons are not the same as cash. It doesn’t cost couponers anything to redeem a coupon, so why should they be refunded more than they spent out of pocket? Some couponers, meanwhile, argue that coupons are still a form of payment. So if the coupon itself can’t be returned, why shouldn’t they be credited with its value when returning an item? And if the retailer has already submitted the coupon to the manufacturer for repayment, are they then keeping the cash for themselves?

In this case, Target is not keeping the cash, but crediting the value of the coupon back to the manufacturer – which is where it belongs, after all, considering the item was returned and the manufacturer shouldn’t have to fund a discount on an item that was never actually purchased.

When asked, Target didn’t explain the reason for the change. But retailers that opt not to refund the value of any redeemed coupons are often trying to discourage return fraud. A fraudster might purposely buy products using high-value coupons, then return the items in order to get their full value refunded, essentially turning those high-value coupons into cash. Do it enough times, with enough coupons, and a fraudster can earn a whole lot of cash.

The new policy change, reported here first by Coupons in the News, is the latest Target effort aimed at fighting coupon-related fraud. Last fall, also as first reported by Coupons in the News, the retailer’s registers began rejecting any coupon not on a master list of legitimate offers. That followed a change several years ago (yet another story reported here first), in which a register update eliminated cashiers’ ability to override the system and manually push through a rejected coupon.

Prior to this most recent change, Target’s policy tried to discourage return fraud by only refunding coupon values in the form of a gift card, which at least ensured that customer service wasn’t handing out cash like an ATM and that the refunded coupon amount would be spent at Target. The policy was later amended to give Target some more wiggle room, by stating that the retailer “reserves the right to decline the return of items purchased with manufacturer coupons or rebates.” Now, Target is essentially checkmating fraudsters, by deducting coupon values from returns altogether, so there’s no profit in return fraud anymore. That’s even if it means honest couponers miss out on the value of coupons that they can’t get back, and can’t use on a future purchase.

So you could argue that honest couponers stand to lose under the new policy. But if Target’s new rules help keep costs down by thwarting those who try to abuse the system – it’s the fraudsters themselves who’ll end up the real losers.

Image source: Target


  1. “Do it enough times, with enough coupons, and a fraudster can earn a whole lot of cash.”

    This part is laughable when you consider how many times corporations scam the average, every day consumer knowing most individuals don’t have the time, energy, or money to pursue legal recourse against them. Finding a class action is hit or miss.

    A common scam is to inflate prices 200+%, only to advertise sale prices at or above the actual price point, making shoppers believe they are getting a bargain. Kohl’s and JCP are notorious for doing this.

    I made a purchase (no coupon used) at JCP, returned the following day to return the item and was shorted $0.01. Most customers aren’t going to waste time over a one cent deficit. But just imagine if one million customers are shorted one cent. That’s a company profit of $10,000.

    Target is going to extraordinary lengths to address coupon fraud which doesn’t affect them since they are paid by the manufacturer whether or not items purchased with coupons are returned. Wouldn’t it make more sense if the manufacturers, themselves, took action to protect their own interests instead of Target using its Bull Terrier methods against customers?

  2. I had a manufacturer coupon for any item in a brand line. The specific item I wanted was out-of-stock, but with the coupon expiring, I used it to get the savings another item of the same brand and assumed I could just return at a later date and either exchange for the actual item I wanted of the same brand once it was restocked, or return the original item to which the coupon was applied, get a full refund to purchase the item I wanted at full price, still having saved the value of the coupon in the end. (That was difficult to explain. Hope it’s understandable.) Needless to say, it didn’t work since the policy change.

    I very much doubt Target is going to reverse what manufacturers pay them for coupon submissions. I just wish there were a way if a customer returns an item purchased with a coupon, in lieu of not getting the value of the coupon back in tender used for purchase, the customer could still get the same value savings on another item of the same brand – which seems fair.

  3. I don’t believe for one second that Target is going to let the manufacture know to reverse the coupon. I agree with Charme about how Target makes you feel like you are doing something wrong when using a coupon that won’t scan.

  4. Kudos to Target! It’s unfortunate the honest couponers will suffer, however, I bet you those honest couponers do not often return product bought with coupons because THEY ACTUALLY ARE GOING TO USE THE PRODUCT. Coupons are not cash – they have no cash value. So why should someone who used a coupon, did NOT pay full price for an item, get back full price?

    I’m all for stopping any sort of fraud.

    • Shannon my comments were not intended for your input. However I have a right to express my feelings of where I spend my money and if I don’t like it I don’t and will not take my money and spend it there. And if you honestly believe that they won’t get paid for those coupons upon return and actually trust a corporation to actually do the right thing then there is something wrong with you at some point most of the big box stores have made millions of dollars for overpricing consumers to only get a fine!?!? People don’t know what happened to them until they get home and actually read the receipt then go back to the same store and there customer service refuses a refund. I actually shop with local people and small stores. But go ahead and take there side I could care less about it lol I don’t have to shop there have a good day Shannon!!!

    • And also Shannon my clear the air on coupons as I am 65 year old woman! The stores do in face get paid for the coupons whatever the face value plus whatever 3 cents whatever for it that actually gets paid for the retailer.. they do in fact have value . If they don’t have value why did they change there policy???? They want to make the money and only them that’s why never totally banned the of coupons in there chain of stores. As far as scammers there will always be that nothing we can do but try and stop as much of it as we can. But to sit there and wait for response about the use coupons is crazy to me if it has no value then maybe you should pay full price such a waste of time . Best regards Shannon.

  5. I am absolutely done with target !!!!! There is fraud in almost all forms of payment methods this includes coupons people have done what they are trying to expose for there business. However how is not fraud on there part to still turn in YOUR coupon and still get paid for it?????? That’s exactly what they are doing. In turn of trying to fix a problem now they outright stealing themselves. My best advice for them why don’t you just taking coupons all together. I think that would have been better. As for me I will scratch them any future shopping trips and by the way those coupons aren’t free I pay multiple newspaper subs to get to use them my advice to anyone reading this . Take your money to another corporation who lets you shop dignity and respect.

  6. I am a couponer and I have not set foot in a Target store for years mainly due to their attitude if you ever dare to question why they refused to accept a coupon that is an exact match for an item you are purchasing. They make you feel like a thief and that you are trying to pull a fast one on them. They are very coupon unfriendly.

  7. Thank you for the update in policy!

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