The economy and unemployment rate certainly pay a role in the explosion of bargain seekers, but so does pop culture`s fascination with all things coupon. TV shows like TLC`s "Extreme Couponing" glorify the kookiest of coupon-clippers. The media went wild over online couponing site Groupon`s initial public stock offering in June. And countless blogs teach readers how to stack, swap and scrounge for those scissors-friendly bits of paper gold.
Walgreens accepts more than 150 million manufacturer coupons a year, on top of Register Rewards and store coupons from our ads. Once a team member scans a manufacturer coupon, that bar-coded piece of paper begins an intriguing journey across state lines and national borders, changing hands several times before we`re reimbursed by the manufacturer. We`ll follow one such manufacturer discount on that journey and learn a little more about coupon culture along the way.Â
The Journey Begins "If I had to guess, I scan about 300 coupons on a busy day," says Alecia Fraser, beauty advisor and coupons queen at 9259 S.E. 82nd Ave in Happy Valley, Ore. "We have a few super couponers, but it`s mostly regular people who spend 10 minutes clipping ads in the Sunday paper."
When "Walgreens World" talked to Fraser, the most recent coupon she`d scanned was from Procter & Gamble, for $0.25 off Cascade dishwasher detergent. This is the lucky coupon we`ll track from counter to cash report.
"A mother with 2 young children came in for a few necessities, including Cascade," says Fraser. "She said she uses every discount she can to stretch a dollar in this economy."
The coupon process is undergoing a bit of a discount itself. We`ve been able to cut an entire step from the process, so instead of being sent to an intermediate facility in Danville, Ill., for the first leg of a coupon`s journey, it now goes directly to a coupon clearinghouse in Texas.
"We`ve been able to save 20% of the process time by eliminating one unnecessary step from the coupon redemption process," says Deanna Yurek, a business analyst in Community Management who works on our coupon process. "This is another way a simple idea to improve a process turned into big cost and time saving." Coupons equal cash But back to our coupon. Now that Fraser has scanned the Cascade coupon, she stores it with the other coupons underneath the cash register. When cash is collected from the drawer, the coupons are collected too. "Coupons equal cash," says Yurek. "If we lose a $1 coupon, at any level of the process, it`s like losing a dollar bill. That`s why we`re making a big point of collecting coupons in the same way we collect cash. We don`t want to toss money in the garbage along with the Walgreens coupons."
Our customers redeem more than 415,000 manufacturer coupons a day.Walgreens coupons are treated differently than manufacturer coupons because discounts on Walgreens coupons come from within the company. We don`t need to send them to a vendor to get reimbursed. If you`re in doubt about whether a coupon is a Walgreens coupon or a manufacturer coupon, save it under the register just in case. It`s the manager`s responsibility to pull out and discard Walgreens coupons from among all the manufacturer coupons we submit. But if a manufacturer coupon is tossed or lost, that`s cash we could be throwing away.
We`ve accepted coupons for more than 1,500 different vendors this year.Crossing the border Fraser`s manager counts the drawer and places the coupons in a daily coupon envelope, which is placed inside a larger U.S. Postal Service envelope at the end of the day. On Tuesday, as every Tuesday, that pre-paid USPS envelope is sealed with our dishwasher detergent coupon and a week`s worth of other coupons. It`s then mailed to a facility in El Paso, Texas, that`s run by NCH Marketing, the Illinois-based coupon clearinghouse we use to handle coupon redemption. We first hired NCH back in 1973 to process and invoice manufacturer coupons we collect.
"Walgreens is the fifth largest redeemer of consumer packaged goods coupons amount all U.S. retailers," says Carmen Garcia, who handles the Walgreens account for NCH. "We`ve worked together for nearly 40 years to protect the financial integrity of Walgreens coupon related transactions. In the past year alone, we`ve reimbursed Walgreens for more than $326 million in coupons."
When the El Paso facility received the envelope containing the week`s coupons from Fraser`s store, the envelope is forwardedÂ to one of the NCH`s three processing facilities in Mexico, where the Cascade coupon is scanned into their system. NCH`s process includes controls to maintain a record of which store the envelope came from, its weight, and the number and face value of coupons inside. They also visually inspect the coupons to make sure they`re readable and in good enough condition to be reimbursed.
Coupons are then scanned and sorted by manufacturer. To make sure there are no discrepancies, NCH sends a store-level report back to Walgreens that compares the dollar value of the coupons to what our point of sale system says we scanned. NCH also collects and returns to Walgreens any non-coupon items that may have been accidentally included such as cash or checks. Show me the money
Once all the coupons from that batch have been recorded, NCH creates a tag that lists the value of the coupons. This tag is used to invoice the manufacturer - either electronically or by mail - for the coupons` value. NCH collects payment from Procter & Gamble for our Cascade coupon, along with all the manufacturers, into a central account.
Then, about 21 days after NCH receives our coupon shipment, it issues one payment to Walgreens for all the coupons submitted. Although stores see the previous day`s coupons reimbursed on the cash report each morning, if there are discrepancies between that POS says was scanned and what NCH actually collected, this is when the store will get docked for the missing coupons.
It may seem like a lot of work for a quarter. But chainwide, we accept and are reimbursed for hundred of millions of dollars in coupons each year. And we reach that total one $0.25 coupon at a time.Â
We`re the 5th largest redeemer of consumer packaged-goods coupons among all U.S. Retailers.
More than 94% of Americans use at least one coupon a year.Coupon Confusion?
Here`s how to tell the different types of coupons apart: MANUFACTURER COUPONS:
- Usually have 2 different barcodes
- Paid by vendors
- Must be kept & Submitted for reimbursement
- Found in the Sunday paper, on or inside products and -increasingly- online
- Usually look similar to one another
- Paid by Walgreens
- Can be thrown away after scanning
- Found in Walgreens weekly ad
- Always the same width because they`re printed from the Catalina machine
- Can be paid by Walgreens OR by a manufacturer
- Manufacturers-paid Register Rewards coupons MUST be submitted for reimbursement
- Customers receive these coupons with qualifying purchases