In recent weeks I’ve seen reports flying around the Internet that some Wal-Mart stores are accepting only ten coupons or less per transaction. For a heavy coupon user like me, this is bad news. I had hoped that perhaps it was just one or two stores that were doing this but, unfortunately, this policy has finally come to my Wal-Mart and may be coming to a Wal-Mart near you very soon.
I asked the local manager why the policy changed and he didn’t have any real idea. He said he hadn’t gotten an explanation from the corporate office and didn’t know if it was a nationwide policy, or just for certain stores. I’ve thought about this new policy to try to find a reason, and it still makes no sense to me. I don’t think it’s money. Retailers are reimbursed for the face value of the coupons they submit back to the manufacturer and, in most cases, are given a few cents extra per coupon as “commission.” Since Wal-Mart doesn’t double coupons beyond face value, they aren’t losing money on Walmart Coupons. They ought to be making money.
I understand there have been problems with coupon fraud in recent years, but that has mostly occurred with coupons printed off the Internet. My Wal-Mart (and many other stores) haven’t taken that sort of coupon for a couple of years and I am okay with that. I understand. But the ones you cut from the paper or the back of a package are much harder to duplicate and alter, and so fraud hasn’t been as prevalent with these types of coupons. The cash register knows if you bought the product for which the coupon is being redeemed. If it doesn’t sense that the product, quantity, and/or size is correct, or that the coupon has expired, it beeps and signals the cashier that there is a problem. He or she can then manually check the items and override the register, if necessary.
Which brings me to what I think is the real reason for this policy change. I think Wal-Mart is looking for ways to speed up their notoriously slow checkout process without having to actually hire more cashiers. They probably figure that if fewer coupons are being used, lines will move faster. I doubt it. First of all, a lot of things at the cash register take time. If someone is using WIC or food stamps, that takes time. Is Wal-Mart going to limit the use of these products, too? Second, writing checks takes time. Not many people do it, but those who do slow things down. Is Wal-Mart going to stop taking checks? Third, what about the person who gets to the register after all of their stuff is rung up and then and only then looks for the credit card, the checkbook or the cash? Is Wal-Mart going to institute a policy that you must have your payment method ready before the cashier begins ringing you up? Price matching, using multiple payment methods (such as a gift card combined with cash), chatty cashiers or customers, or cashiers-in-training all add time to the checkout process. In other words, if you aren’t prepared to wait in line, grocery shopping isn’t for you. I can’t imagine that coupons are so horrible in comparison.
I’ve always shopped at Wal-Mart because where I live I don’t have a lot of choices and using my coupons at Wal-Mart is the most cost effective option. Few of the grocery stores here double coupons and those that do have prices that are more than twice that of Wal-Marts’ regular prices. The stores here don’t have great sales, so I can’t try to save by hitting the loss leaders at each store. Besides, with gas as high as it is, I would eat up my savings by driving all over town. I may not agree with everything Wal-Mart does as a corporation, but they have always allowed me to stretch my food budget further than any other store. Coupons have added to those savings. With the economy heading south and grocery prices rising every day, I really hate that they’ve done this.
Will I still shop at Wal-Mart with this new policy in place? I guess so, but reluctantly and only because I have no other cost effective options. What I will do, however, is make multiple trips through the line and split up my coupons over two or three orders. If Wal-Mart is looking to save time, they won’t accomplish it with me because I’ll be in that line for quite a while. If another store opens up around here that will compete price-wise, I’ll vote with my wallet and shop there.
I complained to the local manager, although there’s nothing he can do. I have also complained to Wal-Mart’s corporate office, although I don’t expect to hear back from them. If this policy comes to your Wal-Mart and it bothers you, I urge you to complain, as well. Maybe if enough people complain they’ll change this policy. If you have other cost effective grocery options where you live, vote with your wallet and shop there. And if you know the real reason for this policy change or have another theory, please post it in the comment trail. I’d really like to understand.
Image courtesy of Dystopos