Mind-Boggling Moneymakers Cause Chaos and Controversy

Source: October 14, 2016 in Coupons In The News

Need some Lipton tea or Fruttare frozen fruit bars? Well, Publix will pay you twenty bucks for each set of sixteen that you take off their shelves.

At least they were, until they realized the extent of the stacking scenario they had enabled, and put a stop to it – upsetting some extreme couponers, and store staffers who’ve had to deal with the fallout.

The Florida-based chain had couponers in six Southern states salivating over a couple of store coupon/sale/instant rebate combinations, after previews started emerging for the weekly ad that began midweek. There’s a promotion offering an instant rebate of $5, for every $15 worth of select Pepsico, General Mills and Unilever products purchased. Those products are also on sale. And there happens to be a store coupon available for $5 off 2 select Unilever products, two of which are part of the promotion.

So consider this scenario – boxes of Fruttare bars are on sale this week for $2.50 each. They’re eligible for the $5/2 coupon, and the $5 off $15 rebate. Buy six boxes for $15, use three $5 coupons to get them for free, get the $5 instant rebate on top of it, and earn $5 in overage (which Publix allows).

Or buy ten boxes of Lipton tea (or a couple of fillers and eight boxes, if your store sticks to the maximum allowed per store policy). They’re on sale for $1.50 each. Buy $15 worth, use five $5 coupons, get the $5 instant rebate, and earn a whopping $15 in overage.

Buy both brands, over multiple shopping trips, and you earn a twenty-dollar bill every time you set foot in a Publix store this week.

But not anymore.

If you’ve ever held onto a good coupon, only to have it expire the day before a big sale – or if a coupon comes out just as soon as a sale is over – that’s no accident. Stores and manufacturers typically aim to plan their promotions carefully, to avoid ill-advised scenarios that provide shoppers with overlapping discounts.

But occasionally there are mistakes, oversights and “what-were-they-thinking” moments like the one that’s caused a frenzy at Publix.

Many shoppers reported that shelves full of Lipton and Fruttare were cleared within minutes of stores opening on the first day of the sale. Some proudly posted their receipts on social media to show off their hauls, and their profits.

And many others started complaining, once Publix began scrambling to contain the damage and put limits on the deal.

“Stores have set a limit of 2 on certain items. So how are we going to make the $15.00 mark?” one shopper asked on Publix’s Facebook page. “How can we take advantage of a sale if we are not even allowed enough items to make it work?”


One shopper’s store manager “would only accept two of those particular coupons and they refused to honor your published policy of taking eight identical coupons,” another comment read.

Limiting quantities “just shows a lack of preparation for their own sales. Ridiculous,” complained another.

“As you might imagine, due to these great deals, we have some stores who are running low on product or are completely sold out of product,” Publix spokesperson Maria Brous told Coupons in the News. “We’ve had to make some tough decisions in an effort to provide the best opportunity for the majority of our customers to benefit from these deals.” Therefore, she said, “stores are limiting quantity deals and we are also limiting the $5.00 off coupon to two per household, per day.”

(Update: Later, Publix relaxed the limits on the coupon, and on the number of participating items that can be purchased. “Due to overwhelming feedback from our customers, we decided to remove these limitations and now there is a maximum of 8 coupons allowed,” Publix explained. In addition, stores “should allow customers to purchase enough product to meet the $15 minimum.”)

Meantime, the $5/2 coupon is being retroactively interpreted to apply to two different participating brands, and not two of the same brands – so one coupon can’t be used to buy, say, two boxes of Lipton. “The coupon does not state you have to mix and match,” one Facebook commenter grumbled. “Therefore you are not following your own coupon policy and may actually be classified as false advertising.” Added another: “They are punishing their customers for their careless advertising team’s mistake.”

Typically, Publix lets store managers set limits or determine how store coupons are to be applied at their discretion. It’s a relatively rare move for the corporate office to impose limits chain-wide – especially after a weekly ad is out, instead of spelling it out in the ad itself.

That has upset many shoppers who missed their chance to get paid for buying Lipton and Fruttare. Others, meanwhile, find the limits reasonable and perfectly understandable. The other area of disagreement, is whether coupon blogs and message boards that promoted the stacking scenario, were merely pointing out a completely legitimate deal – or taking avaricious advantage of a marketing error, before the stores and participating manufacturers realized what had hit them.

I Heart Publix” blogger Michelle Atwood is on the side of not promoting such deals.

“By highlighting the deal (or telling people to RUN) it just encourages shelf-clearing, which is not something that I want to support,” she told Coupons in the News. “I know Publix will be overwhelmed by folks wanting the items, and just don’t feel that it’s appropriate for me to add to the chaos.”

So why would a store offer such overlapping deals at all? Is it a case of a retailer or manufacturer’s coupon-issuing left hand not knowing what the promotions-creating right hand is doing? For all the careful calibrating that brands usually do to avoid concurrent promotions on the same items, that clearly didn’t happen this time.

Unless, that is, Unilever purposely pulled out all the stops to send boxes of Lipton and Fruttare flying off the shelves. And if that’s the case, they certainly succeeded.

It may be safe to assume, though, that paying people to take their products is not something they’re likely to do again anytime soon. So if you managed to stock up on Lipton and Fruttare this week, hope your supply lasts you until the next time a deal like this comes along. If there is a next time.


(Update: See “Publix Pays the Price for Outrageous Overage“)