Supermarket apologizes for participating in “Extreme Couponing”

It’s one thing when shoppers notice that their local stores are bending and breaking their own policies to help depict over-the-top shopping trips on TLC’s Extreme Couponing. It’s another thing entirely when the store admits it and apologizes to their own customers.

Lowes Foods, a Carolina-based supermarket chain, allowed two episodes of the second season of Extreme Couponing to film in their stores. The second episode is scheduled to air next week. That episode’s preview shows a greedy shopper taking every protein bar on the shelf, while another shopper asks if he could have just one. The shopper gleefully turns him down, singsonging “Early bird gets the worm!”

The preview clip is so over the top that it almost appears to be staged.

As it turns out, it was. Lowes Foods admitted in an apology to its customers on its Facebook page that the other “shopper” asking for a protein bar was actually a crew member:

While we can not undo our participation in the taping of Extreme Couponing, what we can do is share with you our reason for doing so and some truths that will not be aired with the show. Lowes Foods agreed to allow the taping in our store in hope to show viewers that we are a coupon friendly grocer with outstanding products and customer service.

Some of what appears in the clip you saw was staged by the production company. In fact, the young man who approaches the empty shelf in dismay is actually a crew member…

Lowes Foods was recently asked to make our stores available for a new show from the production company that films Extreme Couponing. We have declined and have no intention of participating in future tapings.

We do not share this to deflect blame. We share it simply to let you know that things aren’t as they always appear. We definitely made a poor decision by participating in the show. What is most disturbing to us is we disappointed you, our valued customer. We sincerely hope you can look beyond our mistake.

The current week’s episode, featuring Shavon Via of Snow Camp, North Carolina, was also filmed in a Lowes Foods store. As soon as the episode aired, shoppers again took to Lowes Foods’ Facebook page asking why the store’s 20-coupon limit was lifted for Shavon, but not for them. Lowes Foods told the Charlotte Observer that they indeed lifted the policy for the show’s filming:

Selip says the chain deeply regrets its decision to participate in the show. “My hope is our customers know we’re a company of integrity and they’ll understand we made a mistake.”

That anger could come from coupon clippers who’ll see people on the show using more than 20 coupons a day. Selip acknowledged that the company waived part of its policy for the benefit of TV cameras.

When are stores going to realize that if they lift the rules for one shopper, their other shoppers are going to recognize that… and share that information online with each other immediately?

After writing about the rule-bending in the season premiere episodes yesterday, several readers wrote on Facebook saying that they thought Shavon may have misused Kellogg’s boxed cereal coupons to purchase the small, single-serve cups of cereal. People on Lowes Foods’ Facebook page raised similar concerns. If true, this is a form of coupon fraud. It’s also the kind of intentional coupon misuse we saw during the first season of Extreme Couponing, because using a high-value coupon on the smallest sized item usually makes it very cheap or free — but this is against the terms of the coupon, which specifies that the larger size must be purchased.

We know that Shavon shopped on June 8th, 2011 from the screenshot of the register, showing the date:

Shavon is shown buying 180 single-serve cups of Kellogg’s cereal:

… but the coupons the cashier is shown scanning after the cereal cups have crossed the belt are $1-off-3 Kellogg’s coupons, limited to boxes 8.7 ounces in size or larger:

The only current, unexpired $1-off-3 Kellogg’s coupons available during the show’s filming were in the 6/5 and 5/15 RedPlum inserts. The 5/15 coupon is a vertically-oriented rectangle, but the one from the 6/5 RP…

… appears identical to the one she used shown in the screenshot above. And, this coupon indeed is limited to the larger sizes of Kellogg’s.

While Shavon talked about using a lot of coupons in this episode that were vintage, no-expiration-date coupons from her grandmother, the Kellogg’s coupons shown appear to be from the June 5th, 2011 RedPlum insert, because they also have the dual barcode (UPC-A and GS1.) The GS1 barcode wasn’t in existence twenty years ago. Without seeing all of the footage, there’s no way to definitively know what happened.

What we do know is that Lowes Foods coupon policy states:

o We limit redemption to 4 coupons for 4 of the same item
o We will double up to 20 manufacturer coupons with a face value of $0.99 or less every day

Shavon was allowed to use far more than 4 like coupons and double more than 20 manufacturer coupons during her trip, both of which are against the store’s written policy on its own website.

Unfortunately, as long as stores continue to allow shoppers to break the rules, all for the sake of “good TV,” we’ll likely have more of the same to look forward to.

Want to learn more about stores bending, lifting, and breaking rules for TLC’s Extreme Couponing? Recommended reading:


  1. rockandrollallnite says

    Wonder how Chevon’s couponing granny would feel about her committing coupon fraud on TV. WHY WHY WHY are the stores allowing this garbage to happen in their stores? Just say no already! You think it’s good publicity to show someone doing things in your store that the rest of us can’t do? That’s BAD publicity people. Don’t take a genius.

    Ooh I am so MAD at this show. Because there are people who do think it is all real and legit.

  2. dolrskolr says

    Who ARE the people that comprise these stores’ marketing departments?!??! Unbelievable. Why didn’t they put themselves in the shoes of the viewers or customers? You know, pretend it’s your wife or mother doing the shopping after this show airs and realizing it was made for tv and nothing is real. Imagine their displeasure or confusion. Imagine the backlash because of a bad decision. Imagine (as I can’t) that all these people are naive and innocent and don’t realize this is a show strictly for ratings … nothing more.

    Maybe it wasn’t the marketing department. Maybe it was the accounting/finance department that thought it would generate sales thru publicity.

    Good grief. Idiots. Everyone. All the way around.

    Stop the madness – shop with sanity … otherwise known as Jill Cataldo :~)

  3. icoupon2 says

    You know something is off when the shopper’s are contractually obligated not to reveal what they bought. I think some of the shopper’s last year did post their lists on their various blogs? If I’m remembering that part correctly, they must have added this “hush” clause to their contracts for this season. TLC’s way of “trying” to keep people from being able to decipher the fraud. We don’t need the list, we know the deals, we know the coupons that were available at any point in time. We don’t need their “full list” to spot the coupon fraud featured on this show.

    “Because of contractual agreements with TLC, neither Michelle Barnette, the Concord couponer, nor Shavon Via of Snow Camp would say exactly what they bought during their marathon grocery trips to Lowes Foods or how much they paid.”

  4. Curious says

    Wouldn’t it be better to focus this blog on couponing legally rather than giving publicity to this TLC show and it’s fraud? We all know the show is dishonest but you’re now giving it publicity. People are watching it if only for the fraud. You know there are going to be plenty of folks who will try to get away with the bad that is shown though surely they will deny that.

  5. Desert Debbi says

    Thanks for posting this Jill. I enjoyed the read and I am guessing next season will be cancelled.. due to lack of stores willing to participate! The motto “know thy enemy” comes to mind =D Well I still am grateful that I saw the show, googled couponing and found Jill!

  6. mommyofthree says

    This really annoys me. These stores had to think of the outcome of people watching the show or those that already shop at their stores questioning why it was allowed and yet they still decided to go along and be on the program. They just want publicity to gain customers and not worrying about losing loyal customers. Then the customers they do get will try replicating what was shown and be shot down. That seems unethical and not only on TLC but whoever was the decision maker to allow the rule breaking at their stores.

  7. Debbie_ECR says

    Thank You Jill, for always telling the truth.
    Season 2 will likely garner more new couponers who will watch and wonder how they can do it too. Some of the more adventurous will go out and try to replicate these deals. They don’t know the questions to ask, they won’t know these deals are not legitimate. Then they will scour our local stores, possibly push through some of these fraudulent deals and not even realize it was not ethical. These scenarios add to the bad image that couponers are misusing coupons. Having these revelations made public is a good step towards proper education.

  8. MysteryShopper says

    The worst part of this story is not the fraud but the aftermath of the fraud. Those of us using coupons know that the restrictions, limits, and coupon values have gotten worse since this show began. What can we expect now?

  9. sorynjeff2010 says

    I watched like 4-6 episodes, and after reading the blogs and realizng a BIG chunk of it isnt even accurate, I don’t even waste my time watching it anymore… It is sad that because of the show, alot of drug stores and grocers have treated couponers with contempt, and those of us who have learned from Jill ( who do couponing the “right” way )have had to be embarrased by the behavior that this show has portrayed… I have to say though, that this grocer apologizing is a great thing, I believe the apology is sincere and good will come of it….especially when we have someone like Jill advocating on all “honest couponers” behalf :) so lets just hope that the apology started a chain of events that we dont see now, but in the long run will get the attention it needs and people like Jill are commended….

    I started couponing a little less than 2 years ago… and I joke around with friends and family saying … I have 2 saviors… Jesus Christ and Jill Cataldo… lol

  10. silviavm says

    I do not agree with the misuse of qs therefore let me make myself clear, I do not use the wrong coupons for a product but…i do want to shop for my family of 6, I do buy my newspapers (6-one for each family member) and some of these stores have ridiculously strict and limiting coupon policies! They limit so much and lately every time these shows air, we get more revisions to the policy! Not to mention the cashiers interpretation of the restrictions on the q like the difference btwn 1/purchase and 1/transaction. What if there was freedom to shop? What if these stores are recognizing that their policies are deterring customers and actually lift these terrible restrictions to let people save the maximum amount of money? I know we need some rules but some of these policies are not only outrageous but every time they update their policy it gets worse!! I just wanna save money, why can’t I maximize that legally without scrutiny and restriction?

  11. artmom6 says

    I’m wondering if there is a disclaimer at the end of the show saying that the things you see on the show may or may not be true or real. (In other words, they may or may not be lying). Why is it okay for a show to lie and cheat publicly to the world but to punish individuals with possible jail time? I’m certainly not advocating unethical behavior, but it seems like they are. Where is justice here?

    I’m really sick of EC and refuse to watch it.

  12. Dealznstealz says

    I am boycotting the show and retailers – I also do not buy the lack of oversight by TLC, Retailers, Brands involved in this show!! Over 1,500 Kroger shoppers are boycotting Kroger after Kroger promoted the TLC EC show and ended doubles in Houston. Now Kroger ended doubles for Dallas and all of Texas?

    Most all Kroger stores are limiting coupons severely after promoting the show allowing participants to waive the coupon policy rules. Will Kroger roll-out NO DOUBLES out nationwide?? Bad customer service and treating coupon customers as second class citizens is EXTREMELY wrong – yet Kroger heavily promoted the TLC EXTREME Couponing Show and gained almost ONE MILLION new visitors in website traffic. Since April, when Kroger ended Double-triple coupons for Houston to “TEST” this new policy – thousands of posts to Kroger’s facebook wall have gone unanswered.

    Kroger promoted the TLC Extreme Couponing show which supports unethical couponing. You can not duplicate the transactions of 1000 products with coupons as demonstrated on this show – many of these transactions show unethical couponing – the TLC spokesperson said the show was never meant to teach but only show behavior.

    Why would Mr. Dillon refuse to go on the reality show UNDERCOVER Boss because he did not want to LIE to his employees but it is ok to LIE to you CUSTOMERS.– that is not CUSTOMER 1st Strategy!! Many customers are finding out at checkout that Kroger is changing coupon policies limit 1-3 coupons where previously there were no limits – isn’t that close to the same as “NO DOUBLES”?

    Now that TLC EC/Kroger created the “Perfect Storm” for coupon misuse – the customers in this weak economy with skyrocketing food prices are suffering. Couponing as we know it is changing and not for the good. I only hope the industry is not making a cohesive decision as part of their industry collaborative associations to end affordable groceries.

    How does a large corporation like Kroger with sales exceeding $30 M get away with promoting the TLC Extreme Couponing show without a disclaimer on the show? How do they get away with deceiving the customers when these coupon transactions can not be duplicated? Why does Kroger not post the fine print of ALL the coupon policies in the paper advertisement and at each register? What is the legal position on Kroger falsely advertising unlimited coupons and 1,000’s of products on the TLC EC show and deceptive advertising – and doesn’t the Lanham Act protect consumers?

    Kroger and the industry have deep pockets for representation spending millions each year. Who represents the consumer to make sure groceries are affordable? Join us at KROGER COUPONERS group on facebook and BRINGBACKDOUBLES.COM and BRING BACK DOUBLES:

  13. BigD says

    All comments I see focus on the shoppers, the store/chain, or TLC. I you want to really put an end to this show, the true target should be the advertisers who sponsor the program. As with every other show, if there is no advertising revenue, the show will fold.
    You should watch and make a list of all companies who provide advertisements on “Extreme Couponing”. Search the internet for their “public relations” mail address, email address, and telephone numbers. Write, email, and call to let them know how disappointed you are in their fine company sponsoring a misleading television program. Explain the reasons behind your belief, and tell them their action reflects unfavorably on their organization judging from comments you have seen on the internet. Advise them if their company continues to support this program with ad dollars, you will be forced to purchase a competitor’s product instead of theirs.
    This is not a call for a boycott of any company or product. You are simply giving them the chance to mend their ways in order for you to remain a loyal customer.
    I was told for every call/email/letter a company receives there are 1000 others who feel the same way but did not contact the company. Make your voices heard!

  14. Jacobmoore says

    A debt of gratitude for posting this, Jill. I got a charge out of the read and I am speculating next season will be scratched off… because of an absence of stores ready to take an interest! The aphorism “know thy adversary” rings a bell =D

    Well I am still thankful that I saw the show, googled couponing and discovered Jill!