Publix is about to tighten its rules on redeeming competitors' coupons at all of its stores.
The move is part of the Lakeland-based supermarket chain's first companywide coupon policy, which it disclosed Wednesday and takes effect May 23.
Publix, which said it is responding to customers who asked for more uniformity, still will have one of the more liberal policies for accepting manufacturers' printed and valid Internet coupons. But it won't honor as many of its rivals' coupons as before.
"What we are trying to do is offer a consistent coupon experience at each of our stores," said Shannon Patten, Publix spokeswoman.
Until now, each Publix store decided which rival store coupons it would honor. The new policy adds more consultation with headquarters, and each store will post a list of rival store coupons accepted there.
Some Publix stores have only honored competitors' coupons if the rival has a store within 5 or 10 miles. That will continue, though the company will not set a specific distance. But by posting a list in each store, Publix hopes to clarify what shoppers until now had to learn from experience at each individual location.
Manufacturers reimburse grocers for honoring their coupons, but accepting rival store coupons directly affects Publix's bottom line.
The printed policy is also supposed to clarify some coupon offers that have been "sketchy" and subject to individual store employees' interpretation, such as how to stack a coupon discount on top of a buy one, get one free offer.
The news, anxiously awaited for a few weeks on many coupon blogs, created a stir online, but the changes were not as sweeping as many feared.
"What Publix is doing is fair, even though the coupon policy now is like, 'your mileage may vary' from store to store," said Ashley Nuzzo, a Tallahassee-based author of frugalcouponliving.com.
Nuzzo said Publix likely revealed the policy in response to the upcoming appearance of one of its stores on the TLC cable show Extreme Couponing. The show has been credited with some of the revival of extreme couponing, where hard-core practitioners wheel and deal their way to hundreds of dollars in free groceries.
Supermarkets have been trying to figure out how to get a grip on the giveaways while keeping the logistics of handling them from bogging down checkout flow.
If viewers see Publix customers on the TV show cashing in for big bucks, many will try to do it themselves, only to be rejected because the rules can be different at each store, Nuzzo said. The new policy will help mitigate some of that disappointment.
Publix is not the first to rein in coupons. Kroger Corp. and Harris Teeter both have tightened and, in some cases, recently reduced the value of their double coupon offers.
"It's going to spread to other chains because the grocers are losing too much money watching extreme couponing being abused," said Tanya Senseney, a blogger from Lady Lake who writes couponqueeny.com.
To better handle extreme couponers, Publix recently started testing automated coupon redemption machines in 70 of its 1,034 stores in five states. Managers will now be asked to approach shoppers who are obviously piling up their carts for a massive coupon dump to check the validity of their coupons before they wheel their cart into a crowded checkout lane.
Other highlights of the new Publix coupon policies:
• Publix will limit competing drugstore chain coupons to prescriptions only. That means the entire chain will no longer match coupon deals from Walgreens or CVS for food and packaged goods such as milk or cases of soda.
• As word of the coming rules spread in recent weeks, many individual Publix stores also stopped honoring Target coupons, except for prescriptions, because it is a discount store and not considered a supermarket competitor.
• Rival store coupons good for percentage-off items or a total order will not be accepted.
• A manager must approve any single coupon that exceeds $5; quantities may be limited.
• Each buy-one, get-one offer is considered a separate sale. That means coupons can be combined with a buy-one, get-one item to save more, but you need a coupon for each item. So you would need two 50 cent coupons to save another $1 off two items bought on buy-one, get-one.
• Dollars-off total order coupons will be limited to one issued by Publix and one from a competitor per store. In other words, a shopper could combine a Publix coupon for $5 off a purchase of $25 dollars or more with a similar coupon from a rival to get $10 off a $50 purchase. But it's capped there.