‘Coupon Exclusions' Latest Way Stores Fool Retail Shoppers

At first, I admit, I pooh-poohed Ron Hiett's complaint to The Watchdog. In the scheme of things, it sounded so insignificant. Here's the Arlington man's letter. What do you think?"Dear Watchdog:"My wife and I went shopping this week at Belk and had cut out their 20% off coupon that appeared in the newspaper. My wife found numerous items for purchase. However, when we started to check out the cashier said our coupon could not be used for any of the items."Sure enough, on examination of the back of the coupon, it read in very small print, "Excludes [almost 100 brand name products]. We could find nothing on display that the coupon was good for."Watchdog, we had always thought of Belk as a class department store, but this has quickly changed. Isn't this a gigantic scam by Belk just to get you in their store? Shouldn't consumers be alerted to their underhanded sales tactics?" Is this valid?My first response, I now see, missed his pitch down the middle of the plate. I wrote Ron, "I'd have to say, 'Read the fine print.' As long as it said it on the back, and you didn't read it until you had to, they covered their backside. It's up to you to be smarter than them. I can't shame them, but I can show you how to be a smart consumer. So it's not a scam, or even legally, a deception."After writing that, I asked my wife Karen about it. She told me this is a recurring shopper's problem. So I began looking at Belk coupons. Ron is right. I saw ultra-tiny print, and lines and lines of it, prohibiting the purchase of almost anything anybody would ever want to buy.  Continue reading...

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