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:
- Season 2 of TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” hit with controversy again
- Why your shopping trips aren’t quite like the ones on “Extreme Couponing”
- Shopper admits committing coupon fraud on “Extreme Couponing”