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Coupon Crazy

Coupon Crazy

February 18, 2012

Coupons have become the smart shopping mantra, another reason to rejoice for the frugal immigrant.

If you know what OYNO, MIR and BOGO means, you are dangerously close to what I would call an extreme couponer. Couponing has evolved from a frugal art into a smart shopping mantra. And to the frugal immigrant there is no better way to save an extra buck than shopping with coupons.

When my mother visited the US for the first time, we took her to a major retail chain to get her a winter coat. Of course everything was on Sale and we also had 20% off coupons. She refused to pick up a coat thinking they were either defective or we had taken her to the Indian equivalent of Mega mart. Before she could grasp the fact that every clothing item we purchased was either on sale or in an outlet mall, we had an earful about the pauper like lifestyle we lead here. Since then some things have changed. She has graduated to collecting coupons and deal flyers for Williams Sonoma and we have started buying some stuff at regular price - occasionally.

My maternal aunts were experts at bargaining. They even haggled with the vegetable vendor. If they did not get a rupee or two reduced for a kilo of potatoes they would not have a good night’s sleep
. No matter how hard they tried, this art of bargaining was lost on their niece. Which is why in India, I would never have bothered to plan my grocery shopping. We used to do it on our way back from work or if all else fails, run to the store at the street corner to get last minute necessities. Deals? What deals? Getting ready for your bath and realizing that you shower gel is all squeezed out or having a store in arm’s reach with your stove on is deal enough. But here we never do grocery shopping on weekday evenings because of the crowd. So I offer to go during the day time or on weekend mornings. Little did I know that there was another crowd waiting to smack me.

I’m usually amazed at how people fill their carts without a care about letting stuff rot in their fridge or storing them at home, but I have long since learned not to stare at them with an open mouth. It really is rude
. So when the lady before me had two carts full and the store clerk was happily ringing his register, it was daytime soap opera material. I was waiting for her to run out of cash or make a fuss about leaving out some of the items. None of it happened. She opened her bag and there were a stack of coupons and I stood behind her for what seemed like eternity. Even as the store clerk braved himself for the onslaught, he was ill-prepared. She seemed to talk in Greek and Latin when she handed him a wad of manufacturer coupons and some were pinned with store coupons. The clerk wanted to bury himself and as he rang for the manager, the lady candidly brought out a neat file which was labeled as “Store Coupon Policy”. I know this was a clear sign for me to switch lines, but somehow my legs betrayed me and I stood rooted to the spot. (Besides I did not want to miss out reading about the Kardashians in the trashy magazines lined up near the checkout counter). By the time, the manager and the coupon lady sorted out the details and she paid her bill, the whole store was in rapt applause. For all that she bought she paid a measly $5. When my turn came, I dramatically opened my bag and thought the clerk would faint. But we both grinned sheepishly as I swiped my card for a reasonable amount. Out in the parking lot, when I saw the coupon lady struggling to load her loot, I felt redeemed. Instead of zooming past her, I was walking towards her in the hopes of rubbing on some supermarket stardom. I wanted to get into her bubble of saving even when shopping for broccoli. My aunts would be so proud.

It is exciting when we use coupons for the stuff we really want but with Groupon and Living Social offering us deals from Massages to Miss Maude’s Meals, we are spoilt for choice. One of my friends thought she was striking a deal when she used Groupon to get her portraits done. When the shoot was over, she was stuck with multiple prints of the same picture and every other shot was drilling a hole in her pocket. The fine print with some deals leaves you like a deer caught in the headlights. When we visited our friends and I opened their closet door thinking it to be the restroom, I was caught off-guard by the mountain of toilet tissues starring at me. Apparently they had found a good deal and bought a year’s worth. Their garage, oven and car trunk, all double up as storage spaces. And when pure vegetarians are stuck with cans of tuna because they couldn’t resist a steal, you know they have turned the common sense of using coupons on its head.

As immigrants, it takes us a while to stop converting every purchase to its Indian value. Although India has had a sharp rise in its standard of living, we are still stuck in the 90s retail value
. So coupons and deals are a great way to save money and ease our currency confused state but when you end up buying what you will use 6 months hence or stuff you will never use, you know you are in need of intervention. Otherwise bring on the retail nirvana.

P.S: OYNO – On Your Next Order, BOGO – Buy One Get One, MIR – Mail-In Rebate.

Photo credit


  • Rajpriya
    24.02.12 04:12 PM

    I know the coupon is not so much a craze in UK. However, this post is about the craze that exists in the US.

    I agree with you that the link I sent was old but it clearly explains the sinister moves of a marketing strategy that lands vulnerable people into their nets.

    The coupon system still exists in Germany but it is not that popular among the German people. Food supermarkets get rid of older stuff at reduced prices end of every month targeting people’s pay packets.

    That's a time people spend more money. Printed leaflets can be picked up at the entrance showing reduced prices. If one knows that the supermarkets' "markups" on prices are really high then selling at the reduced priced they still make a (reduced) profit.

    Aldi have their own food processing factories distributed to all their outlets that enables them sell cheap but still with huge profits because of the variety of what they sell.

    What goes unnoticed is that the popular items that move fast are sold at increased prices to make up for the loss of profit on the reduced items. It's like the Ice cream sellers always make best sales near schools.

    The advertising trade I am involved in taught me how to market products and to price them for profit. So I know how we target people to pay a higher price for some thing they can't do without.

    But that's business isn't it? We provide sixteen people employment with good salaries and train (apprentices) at least three for 3 years for which our business has to be kept healthy and profitable.

    So reducing price of certain stuff means jacking (markup) up prices of fast moving items to make up for them. It is an Inevitable intricacy of successful marketing?
    24.02.12 03:14 PM
    @ Rajpriya

    The link you have put on is 10 years old because safeways is no longer in business since last 9 years. I understand what you are saying but so much has changed since then that, they all are fighting for new customers.

    Most of the rewards schemes are now scraped and the only one which still goes is the one run by Tesco and Sainsbury's, others have died the death of the very cons they tried to run. You are right in most thing you said but like I said people's mindset has changed and they don't fall for this bullshit any longer.

  • Rajpriya
    23.02.12 10:06 PM

    The link I sent is about what happens in the US. Meera's article is about the coupon system in the US. If you did read the article to the end you would know it has nothing do with machines.

    It is a clever marketing strategy by human beings and how the system works in luring customers under the pretext of bargains. I hope you would read it over again to understand exactly what coupon system is supposed to do to people who believe in it.

    In the end I have also suggested that the pleasure would be entirely yours if you do believe in it. I am not asking any one stop using coupons.

    Here is a link to what happens in UK if you want to read.
    23.02.12 09:34 PM
    @ Rajpriya

    This is common knowledge in most shoppers. You can only bend the customer in few direction, not all, and when you try doing this, then you end up loosing them.

    The british supermarkets started this, and ended up loosing some of the customers to new rival Aldi and Lidle, who are now growing in numbers and also in size too.

    So the formula always don't work when it comes to people, because they all know the differece between the £2 and £3 for the same product. The trick only works few times.

    The system given in link above did work before the budget stores come in to the equation, and they changed the customer mindset, so it's only matter of time before the offenders will feel the pinch, and will change their ways soon when other players will arrive. The british supermarkets did.

    Rajpriya people are more clever then machine and will always will be, no matter what, and will always be one step ahead.

  • Rajpriya
    22.02.12 10:25 PM

    "The psychology and the instinct in making the kill at the right moment… That is a whole different high."

    Yes! It is exactly what the Super Markets use: A psychology to fine tune shoppers instinct. If you read the link below may be you will see the bigger picture. It not just a dollar or two. After all it's your money,
    and the pleasure entirely yours too.
  • Meera
    22.02.12 08:52 PM
    @Harry: I think I haven't figured out the right time to buy stuff... When things go 40% off I buy them thinking its a steal only to discover them on 65% sales in a couple of weeks... :-( But you are right.. I have to beat the system soon to prove that am 100% Indian.

    @Rajpriya: Nobody is denying that businesses don't make profit because of coupons or sales. In the end, we are all aware that whatever we buy at whatever bargain its definitely a dollar or two more than its worth but its the glee of making that bargain. The psychology and the instinct in making the kill at the right moment... That is a whole different high.
  • Rajpriya
    20.02.12 06:08 AM
    In the real world there are no smart shopping mantras ever. Everything starting from Coupons, OYNO – On Your Next Order, BOGO – Buy One Get One, MIR – Mail-In Rebate are all part of a smart selling mantra we are all caught day in day out.

    They are all in fact smart selling tactics including the vegetable vendor who reduces a rupee or two for a kilo of potatoes.

    The oldest form of a sales strategy is to overprice a kilo of potato to dupe the maternal aunt who thinks she in an expert in bargaining. In fact the expert is the vegetable vendor who knows the maternal aunts’ aptitude to look for bargains.

    While the maternal is aunt happy about her day’s bargain has a good nights sleep the vegetable vendor spends a sleepless night working on how to price potatoes for a better profit the next day.

    In the same way when the Greek or Latin speaking lady comes up with her two overflowing carts the store clerk is happily ringing his register knowing that the idiot of a woman had already paid enough and more when she collected the wad of coupons on previous purchases and the $5 was the bonus she was paying the store.

    Or a store wants to get rid of its slow moving items to make space for new. Whichever way it is you who is the loser and always because marketing strategists know how to make the consumer believe in bargains.

    A Coupon is a mirage. Wish the maternal aunts and the Greek lady a good nights sleep.

    No one ever runs a business without profits.
    18.02.12 11:06 PM
    @ Meera
    I am truly disappointed in you, You are an Indian and you behaved like a gori, when purchasing your daily stuff and paid with a card and full amount. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING !!!!!. :)

    We Indians are sucker for bargain. Bartering is in our blood. If we don't get the deal we want, on the things that we want to buy, then our whole mission is failed. Every penny counts, that's our motto. Yank or a Brit, saving money should be our mantra, when it comes to Indians.

    Living in USA has turned you soft, you need to learn the lesson from the coupon woman, to become a proper Indian. Thighter than rest of the tight Indians. You have let down the whole NRI comunity. I don't know what to say !! :) :) :)


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