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Monday, May 30, 2011

How to cope with coupon-challenged cashiers

Every once in awhile, it seems like you can hit a stumbling block in your couponing odyssey -- and that block is a coupon-challenged cashier

You can find cashiers who are insecure, overly fussy, or downright hostile about accepting coupons in just about every store that accepts coupons (right now, according to posts over on the San Antonio Budget Grocery Facebook page, some of you are running into problems at Walgreens and HEB, but in the past I've also heard about similar issues from Target and Walmart shoppers.)

So how can you maintain your sanity at the checkout stand while still getting a good deal and saving money for your family?  Here are some tips that can make dealing with a coupon-challenged cashier less stressful or confrontational.

  • Be prepared.  In an ideal world, all cashiers would receive extensive training on how to accept and handle coupons within their particular company's coupon policy.  In reality, many cashiers just don't have the experience dealing with coupons that even a new couponer will have.  Remember, only about 3% of the coupons that are circulated each year actually get redeemed -- so while it seems like handling coupons is part of a cashier's everyday tasks, it may actually not be something they do for more than a few transactions a day.  Practice makes perfect, on either side of the cash register -- and patience goes a long way when someone is practicing a skill, as any parent will tell you. 
  • Have a copy of the store's coupon policy.  I can't stress this enough -- having a printed copy of the store's coupon policy tucked into your coupon binder will save you so much stress and heartache at the cash register.  It may very well be the first time your cashier has even seen the policy, and it makes contending with misconceptions (like the old 'you can't use coupons on Register Rewards items at Walgreens' urban myth) much simpler.  Go here for links to the coupon policies of the major grocery stores here in San Antonio -- so you don't have to waste time googling them for yourself.
  • Ask for the manager.  The manager on duty can clarify for both you and the cashier how a particular store interprets company policy -- and many chains do leave some components of couponing up to a store manager's discretion if a situation isn't already outlined in writing.  The manager may not agree with your vision of how the transaction should work 100% of the time, but the exchange will help you a) decide in the moment whether a deal is still worth it and b) if a particular store should be avoided in the future.  NOTE: Some chains (especially Walmart) actually require managers to approve large coupon transactions...not because they have to scrutinize a shopper's coupons, but because they need to make sure a customer is actually there, and the cashier isn't trying to steal from their own till and use coupons to hide the theft!  
  • If you don't receive a coupon from the cashier you were expecting to print at checkout, be sure to ask for the manager then too.  Some stores have coupons printing out at the register (like Register Rewards at Walgreens or catalinas at HEB), but they'll only print if the cashier has paper and ink in the printer.  So a manager can help troubleshoot that situation for you.  And if a coupon prints and your cashier tries to pocket it, you should get a manager right away -- stores consider that internal theft.
  • If you're paying with a debit or credit card, don't swipe until all your coupons have been confirmed.  Otherwise, you could wind up with a temporary double charge on your account if you have to re-start the transaction.  That can be a real hassle if you're on a tight budget, even if it's only for a few days while the voided sale falls off your account.
  • Don't feel guilty about walking away.  If a deal is falling apart at the register, there's no shame in asking your cashier to void or return the transaction.  You should always have a bottom line in your head of what you're willing to pay for an item -- and if it's not a good financial match for you at that store, it might be somewhere else (even in the same company.)  And be sure to retrieve your coupons!
  • Share your experiences.  If you have an especially positive or negative experience in a particular store, that's something that other people should know about.  Take time to send the company an email or give them a call on their customer service hotlines, and for sure tell your fellow couponers on the SABGE Facebook page all about it.  This is a terrific way to help redirect more traffic to stores and companies who really get the couponing experience and are actively soliciting those customers into their stores.
  • Develop relationships with coupon-friendly cashiers.  If you find not just a store that gets it right, but a especially knowledgable cashier, you could be at the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  For example, I have favorite cashiers at the two closest CVS stores to my house, who walked me through the intricacies of the CVS coupon policy back when I first began couponing.  Now, I save extra coupons for both women, and it's always such a great feeling to walk into the store and know someone there is excited to see what kind of deal I'm going to work that day! :D
What other tips do you have for dealing with coupon-challenged cashiers?  Share your thoughts and success stories in the comments section below, or over at the San Antonio Budget Grocery Facebook page!