Season 2 of TLC's "Extreme Couponing" hit with controversy again
It's no secret that TLC's previous season of Extreme Couponing caused a lot of controversy in the couponing community. From shoppers being allowed to use coupons for products that they didn't buy, to stores with policies not to double coupons suddenly doubling coupons for the show, Extreme Couponing garnered a reputation for depicting shopping trips that few, if anyone, could replicate. When a store bends the rules for a shopper because cameras are rolling, the sky's pretty much the limit on how much that person can "save" at the register.
With couponing blogs, messageboards and online petitions calling for more realism on this "reality" show, you'd think Extreme Couponing might have considered changing its ways. Not so.
Last night, season two of "Extreme Couponing" premiered without much fanfare. The episodes were actually more subdued than the previous season, with one shopper couponing to feed her church's luncheon, and another shopper couponing to provide and prepare food for her sister's wedding. Yet, once again, eagle-eyed shoppers spotted inconsistencies in the shopping trips featured on the show.
The first episode opened with couponer April Blum from Erie, Pennsylvania. She was couponing to provide the food for 200 people at a church luncheon. April stated that she purchases most of her coupons from a California clipping service, but that isn't what has couponers online pointing fingers at her shopping trip.
April shopped at Bello's Market, a family-owned grocery store that has been in operation for over 45 years in Erie. On the show, April demonstrated how her .50 Ronzoni pasta coupons would double to $1, as well as how to decode a Dole bagged salad coupon to know whether or not it will double, explaining that if it has a 5 as the first digit, its value will double, but if it has a 9, it won't.
The problem is... Bello's Market doesn't even double coupons. But they doubled April's coupons for the show.
Last season, readers at SlickDeals.net were diligent about documenting the rampant rule-breaking depicted in each episode of Extreme Couponing. This morning, SlickDeals reader Bavonv posted the following:
I live in Erie, PA, and believe me Bello's Market is a mom and pop store that has NEVER doubled coupons. I started watching the show and just became so furious with the FAKE shopping trip, that I had to stop the tape and make a call to Bello's. My first question to them was, of course, was to ask if they double coupons... this guy came back and told me NO they don't double coupons and if I was talking about the TLC show...it was a special promotion. I guess a polite way to put my reaction is this: I WENT BALLISTIC. I told him that it was NOT a promotion it was a FRAUD. link
Having never shopped at Bellos's myself, I wondered... did another store really double coupons "just for the show?" This afternoon, I spoke with Jim Bello, owner of Bello's Market, via telephone to get the his side of the story. I asked, is it Bello's policy to double coupons?
Jim said "It was not the policy to do this. We normally don't double, but we had one item that we did double for them because it was for the church. We doubled the salad. I've gotten a couple of really nasty phonecalls about this asking 'do you double now.' We're independent, we can't afford to. Grocery stores here really don't double. We did help her out and double it up on that though. Other than that, everything she did was normal."
Jim added, "She worked some local people too for different stuff to get free coupons for items. Around here Smith Provision is big, she contacted them and told them she was going to be on the show, so they gave her so many coupons for free bologna. She had won a gift certificate too for a $50 filet, which she used. They shot for 8 hours, she prestaged all of her stuff. The amount of couponing that she did was unbelievable."
I told Jim that during last season, Fry's Supermarket (Kroger) got in trouble with shoppers for doubling all coupons for "promotional purposes" on the show, when it wasn't their policy to do so for other shoppers, and I explained that viewers are watching to see if the trips on the show are depicted realistically.
"I can't believe how many people have called," Jim said, adding "I had an older lady today just verbally abuse me. 'Well, that's not fair,' and she started screaming at me. It was a goodwill gesture for a church. I don't mind donating for a church cause like that."
While during our call, Jim stated that they doubled the salad coupons for April, they actually doubled others as well. During the episode, April stocks up on one hundred boxes of Ronzoni pasta, stating "It's on sale 5-for-$5. I have a .50 coupon, which they're going to allow me to double up, so this box is going to be totally free... 100 boxes of pasta, totally free!" ...
In retrospect, April's statement that "they're going to allow me to double up" was a clue that the store doesn't normally double coupons. Here's a screenshot showing her Ronzoni coupons doubling to $1:
Of course, there were two episodes of Extreme Couponing on last night, and the second episode that aired is causing a Facebook frenzy today. Erin Cook of Sackets Harbor, New York shopped at a Price Chopper supermarket with the goal of purchasing enough food to cater her sister's wedding with. But Price Chopper's customers took to the company's Facebook wall after the show aired, stating that Erin's trip could not be replicated with the current coupon policy in place at Price Chopper.
Price Chopper's current policy is to double only the first 4 like coupons per transaction. But Erin was shown buying at least 40 candy bars with coupons that doubled to make them free. After shoppers began questioning what they saw on the show, Price Chopper responded on Facebook that the "4 like coupon" doubling provision was added to its policy after this episode of Extreme Couponing was filmed. Shoppers continue to disagree, stating that this policy was indeed in place for them long before this summer's taping took place. Erin was also allowed to split her groceries into sixteen separate transactions to skirt this 4-like-coupons-doubled policy.
But Price Chopper has another provision in its policy that's a little more difficult to explain -- a shopper's total double coupon savings cannot exceed 50% of the total at the register. Erin's $886.12 shopping trip would only be able to be reduced to about $443 after coupons... certainly not down to $95.91.
From Price Chopper's Facebook wall:
Linda Zehr Matuszak: ...the Price Choppers I shop at here in the Capital District DO NOT allow me, as one person, to go in and split my groceries into multiple transactions to maximize my coupon savings...and they never have. I've tried. SO...Price Chopper, what about it? While I'm happy to see Erin saving so much, I'm wondering why she was allowed to break all these policies at Price Chopper that the rest of us have to live by? Was it so Price Chopper could get the publicity? Because anyone who shops at Price Chopper could clearly tell by both the store surroundings and the price tags shown on the shelf that this was filmed at a Price Chopper. I personally would love to get all these savings at Price Chopper---I have the coupons and the saavy to do so--but the policies enforced at my local stores prevent me from doing so.
I'd like to know why you allowed these policies to be broken by one person but not by others? To me, although I love this show and I do shop at Price Chopper, this was a grossly inaccurate depiction of what one can do with coupons at a Price Chopper. I would love a response from Price Chopper on this.
Price Chopper responded,"...we agreed to participate with the show to help out a good customer who has shopped us for many years."
Translation: It made for good TV, so we did it. But we won't do it for you.
During my conversation with Jim Bello of Bello's Market, we also talked about the day Extreme Couponing came to his store to film. He said something else that I found interesting:
"The other thing that didn't come through as much as I would have liked it to on TV was they wanted to go to independent stores with owners, but they never really showed that we were the owners. They said 'Last year we used all big stores, so this year we wanted independent stores.' They showed me as 'Manager Jim' on TV, not that I cared. But when they were here taping, they were playing the angle that this was an independent store. On the show you'll see that's my daughter cashiering. At one part she yelled, 'Hey Dad,' but they cut that. When they were here though, the guy said to me 'that will be great for TV,' but they never put it on and just showed me me coming out of the office," Jim said.
This season, TLC's focused on smaller, local stores. Is that because the larger supermarkets learned their lessons after last season?
The problem is, most coupon shoppers know that the best sales and promotions typically are found at the big-chain supermarkets. Smaller, local stores can be great places to shop, but they don't always have the best coupon deals.
But that's okay. They can just fake it for TV.
Want to learn more about stores bending, lifting, and breaking rules for TLC's Extreme Couponing? Recommended reading:
- Supermarket apologizes for participating in "Extreme Couponing," allowed shopper to misuse coupons for the show
- Why your shopping trips aren't quite like the ones on "Extreme Couponing"
- Shopper admits committing coupon fraud on "Extreme Couponing"