Forget Dale Winton and Supermarket Sweep – the sport of ‘Extreme Couponing’ is joining Aldi-Stalking as the latest craze amongst cash-strapped Shoppers.
The turnover in coupons and vouchers was up 35% on the previous year – better growth than online sales at a mere 20%.
According to UK service provider Valassis, more than £1.7 billion of short-term offers were redeemed by retailers last year – either coupons which reduce the price of a particular product or vouchers which reduce the total shopping bill. By Valassis’ estimate the turnover in coupons and vouchers was up 35% on the previous year – better growth than online sales at a mere 20%.
This news came hot on the heels of the money-saving website www.promotionalcodes.org naming Natalie Cooper, 24 of Louth, Lincolnshire as Online Bargain Hunter of the Year for her ‘prolific use of discount codes and deals’. Natalie claims to save £150/month on shopping bills by using coupons and discount codes. Whilst the UK does not (yet, thankfully) have an Extreme Couponing TV show as seen in the USA, it does have a Facebook group created by Jordon Cox, a 16-year-old Essex schoolboy. This has some 52,000 ‘likes’ from users who swop details of the latest offers and how to use them.
Jordon became famous in 2013 for using discount vouchers to buy £600′s worth of goods for 4p.
Ms Cooper spends her time looking online for discount codes, supermarket loyalty scheme vouchers and writing 20 letters a month to supermarket PR departments. Over half then send her coupons, vouchers or product samples in return because ‘rather than just write and ask for coupons I offer recipes, or take a picture of myself with the product’.
Natalie also offers other useful tips, such as using Savoo.co.uk, HotUkDeals.co.uk and Vouchercodes.co.uk to look for discount codes. Finally she advises: ‘Avoid busy times at the checkout – and be polite. If there’s someone behind you, suggest they go in front if you have lots of coupons’. This greatly reduces the risk of violent assault by other shoppers.
Asda recently withdrew a £50 discount offer intended for single use after a rogue barcode allowed shoppers to use it repeatedly.
Whilst supermarket price-matching wars have fuelled the popularity of coupons and vouchers, do such offers ever go wrong? Well yes, quite often, according to Charles D’Oyly, the MD of Valassis. ‘Mistakes can happen easily,’ he says. ‘Issuers can put the wrong value on a coupon, or print too many. You need to have the terms and conditions very clear and they must have an expiry date.’ Asda recently withdrew a £50 discount offer intended for single use after a rogue barcode allowed shoppers to use it repeatedly. The supermarket cancelled the voucher within hours and a spokesman confirmed: ‘A small number of savvy customers…got more money off than they should have’.
This highlighted a particular problem for retailers: The speed by which Shoppers learn of an ‘opportunity’. Online bargain-hunting forums like HotUKDeals and MoneySavingExpert quickly spread the word when a loophole appears. Last Autumn the members of HotUkDeals bulk-bought ice cream at 88% discount when smaller Tesco stores ran a ‘two-for-£3’ offer on ice cream at the same time as ‘two-for-£3’ on pizza and ice cream. Shoppers saved twice by combining both promotions.
Nigel and Penny Ward of Cambridge who were found guilty in 2011 of fraudulently re-using Clubcard vouchers dozens of times to obtain £1,100 worth of ‘free’ groceries.
Taking advantage like that is not illegal although it’s not a recommended way to stock your stall. Dan Plant from MoneySavingExpert.com says: ‘Companies lay out exactly how an offer works in the small print. More often than not this is where the traps lie … but if you can use a voucher as described within the small print legalese, then you can fill your boots’. Taking advantage of mistakes has turned into an enjoyable challenge for some Shoppers, but those who go a step further and tamper with a barcode or digitally reproduce a voucher for reprinting are likely to get hammered. Another problem is ‘misredemption’ – Shoppers who use out of date coupons or ones which don’t apply to what’s in their shopping basket. This ‘voucher abuse’ costs retailers a few hundred million quid a year but rarely ends in court unless a Shopper tries to make a living out of it. The test case was Nigel and Penny Ward of Cambridge who were found guilty in 2011 of fraudulently re-using Clubcard vouchers dozens of times to obtain £1,100 worth of ‘free’ groceries.
Obviously supermarkets monitor the voucher forums to counter the efforts of bargain hunters as well as determined fraudsters. They check the wording of coupons and vouchers for errors but the sheer volume of offers poses a real challenge, particularly when redemption is reliant on a harassed checkout girl on a part-time contract. Even more so when she’s faced with Natalie at the front of a long queue with a shopping bag full of vouchers.
A recent caller to BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine revealed another ‘how-to’ way to save money – cheat a self-service till. The live interview was hugely entertaining and hovered between journalistic enthusiasm, admiration for a very streetwise kid and discouraging listeners from trying it themselves. Certain online forums describe the techniques but unfortunately these were unknown to City of London recruitment consultant, Nicholas Long, 25 who was rumbled whilst on the take at the Lombard Street EC3 branch of Sainsburys Local.
Nick used to play international hockey for the England under-19 squad, but after being hit on the head once too often began scanning all of his self-service purchases as ‘loose onions’. The slight problem is that Sainsburys Lombard Street doesn’t sell loose onions, so after repeating it some 20 times over 3 months even the minimum-wage security guard noticed the deception. Nick admitted ‘fraud by false representation’ and was sentenced to 180 hours of community service and £250 costs. This was a lot less painful than he’d have experienced had he tried it on at Leadenhall Market.