If you find any aspects of couponing confusing, take heart, because the people who design coupons are confused too. When we started working on QSeer three years ago, we never expected coupon trends to continue to show such a high coupon error rate. In fact, coupon issuers are making coupon errors in nearly three out of every four offers!
Eight years after the first guidelines for the coupon DataBar were published, manufacturers are still making coupon errors in 74% of their barcodes, according to a review of the Sunday inserts from the first four weeks of August. Out of 391 coupons dropped between August 2 and August 23, 291 of them contained coupon barcodes (called “DataBars”) that either did not match the written coupon terms or contained some other error that could cause the coupon not to scan. By a narrow margin, these mistakes were more likely to be harmful to the couponer than helpful.
While we observed nearly twenty different varieties of blunders, four coupon errors combined for over 80% of the total:
- Failure to include an expiration date
- The inclusion of a hidden coupon start date
- Bars that are too small for scanners to read properly
- Making coupons redeemable on more products than are listed
For the bars that were too small, some coupons will never scan, like notoriously tiny codes on Cetaphil coupons. Some Dove barcodes are officially too small, but they will probably still scan at most stores.
Surprisingly, large coupon issuers seemed just as likely to screw up as the small guys. General Mills, the famous makers of products ranging from Cocoa Puffs cereal to Hamburger Helper, muffed every one of their coupons in this study.
While many of the errors were technical in nature, some represented basic human mistakes. For example, a Maruchan Yakisoba offer which says “$1.00 off 2” actually scans as $1.00 off 1. The big problem for manufacturers is that a coupon that is dropped nationally has a distribution of about 30 million copies. With stakes this large, one would think that coupon issuers would work harder at getting their coupons right!
Once again we thank the new CHEQR software for making it possible to provide such detailed analysis. Please watch our Facebook page for regular posts on specific coupon errors.