Extreme Couponing Forces Retailers to Tighten Redemption Policies

Retailers are slowly putting the brakes on the newest American consumer craze – extreme couponing.

Where extreme couponing – shoppers taking advantage of store deals combined with multiple coupons in order to get large quantities of food or other products for free (or almost free) – was once viewed as an art, it now has fellow consumers cringing, and retail giants such as Target, Walgreens, and Rite Aid, scrambling to tighten their redemption policies to guard against potential abuse of the system.

“It’s a whole new era, with people piling one coupon on top of another until a product is free,” says Ken Hardy, emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Western Ontario. “Stores are under pressure to be much more careful, and I think we’re going to start seeing coupons redeemed much more judiciously as a result.”

Despite the fact that couponing (as a whole) has flattened out since reaching its peak two years ago when consumers saved $1 billion via 3.3 billion coupon redemptions, research firm Nielsen reports that extremists of the “sport” are actually increasing in number:

“Heavy users have actually grown from representing 11 per cent of all American households in 2009 to 13 per cent in 2010. Fully 70 per cent of all couponing last year is attributed to these “enthusiasts.”

And it’s not surprising, being that TV shows such as TLC’s Extreme Couponing have shed light on the more creative use of coupons, teaching moms and dads alike to save bundles, sometimes literally enabling them to spend pennies on the dollar for their grocery purchases.

In the end, however, extremists (read “shelf clearers” and hoarders) are ruining couponing for regular consumers, and those of us who do not abuse the system despite being able to cash in on the good deals.

“And all of [the retailers] have really clarified their policies to make sure people can’t use way too many coupons, or clear off those shelves,” Kelli Grant with Smartmoney.com said.

Watch the following clip which talks about the changes retailers are making in regards to couponing: