By Ginger Allen

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – What the CBS 11 Investigators found at North Texas grocery stores could cost you extra money every time you shop – especially if you use coupons at the cash register.

Investigative reporter Ginger Allen found some stores actually admit to not always following “the rules”.

When you clip coupons, you probably notice the savings. What you may not notice is the coupon fine print that says “limit four”, “do not double”, or “one per purchase”.

“You have to understand the lingo,” explained Lena Captain, a self-described avid couponer.

Captain said some North Texas grocery stores aren’t following the fine print rules.

“Bottom line, you do not know what to expect,” she said.

Captain regularly shops at a Kroger store in Mansfield.  She says on many occasions, cashiers there tell her she can only use three identical coupons, even when the manufacturers fine print says the limit is four.

When CBS 11 sent Captain into the same store with five identical coupons, the cashier let her use all of them with no questions asked.

While that trip had her saving more money, Captain said she doesn’t like it.  “I think it’s frustrating because I’d like them to have a consistent policy.”

Coupon discrepancies aren’t just happening at a single grocer. We took the same coupons to 10 other North Texas stores including Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Albertson’s.  Nine times out of 10, the cashiers did not follow the fine print rules.  We never knew how many coupons they’d take, or how much money we’d save.

“It seems like it’s a game,” said Cheryl Jackson, co-founder of Plano-based Sisters of Savings.  “I think there is someone behind us at every register just laughing at all the consumers saying ‘Let’s see what will happen this time!’

Jackson and her sister, Lynette Shofner, teach shoppers how to save money through couponing.  They say they’ve received a number of complaints about different store coupon policies.

“It could be anything depending what that manager says,” Shofner said.

Gary Huddleston with Kroger admitted Shofner is right and said there are problems with consistency.  Kroger has a broad policy leaving it up to the store managers, and sometimes even the cashiers to interpret the coupon fine print.

“It’s almost impossible for our checkers to look at the fine print on every coupon,” Huddleston said.

So, chances are, the amount you save will be different each time you shop, just like it was for us.  But, still, some customers just want it to be the same, so they know what to expect.

“Even if you didn’t save a little more, it would still be worth just to know,” we asked Captain? “Yeah, I would love to know.”

If you’d love to know, too, talk to your store manager and find out what the policy is where you shop.

A spokesperson with the Federal Trade Commission told CBS 11 that stores are entitled to set their own policies and there is nothing deceptive happening.

Officials with Wal-Mart told CBS 11 their stores do not have a coupon policy, and are expected to accept an unlimited number of coupons within reason.

A statement from Albertson’s said –

At Albertsons, we encourage our customers to use both manufacturer and store coupons when available as they shop with us. In general, coupons are accepted in accordance to the stated requirements on the coupon at the time of purchase, can be redeemed only once and have no cash value (meaning, if the value of a coupon exceeds the price of an item, the customer will receive the item for free, but will not receive cash back). Customers can combine one manufacturers coupon and one store coupon on the same qualifying item.
Albertsons does not have a single coupon policy that fits every store and every market area, and the guidelines are set by market area, not by individual stores. Coupon guidelines are posted at the registers of all stores for the convenience of our shoppers.

Because coupons are part of our marketing strategy, there may be slight variances between locations regarding coupons. We provide the same training to all stores with regard to coupon acceptance, and update associates yearly on guidelines. While we strive for 100% consistency across our stores as it relates to their ads each week for coupons, in isolated cases, we may choose to limit quantities based on available inventories to provide equal opportunities to our shoppers to receive savings.  We also recognize that mistakes can occur. When we learn of mistakes via customer feedback, we coach the store associates on the appropriate acceptance guidelines for their store.
We do not provide printed versions of coupon guidelines because we do not have one policy for all of our stores. Albertsons does provide a brief explanation of our Coupon Guidelines on our Facebook page.

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