Coupons never seem to be in short supply. They come in the mail, in the newspaper and they’ve even moved online. I can barely keep track of mine as they somehow seem to wind up all over the house. With millions of coupons floating around, how do stores ever keep track of them all?
Well, handing the coupon over to the cashier is just the first step in the surprisingly complex life of a coupon.
1. Coupons = Cash
As far as the stores are concerned, coupons are as good as cash. At the end of the day when the stores balance the registers, the coupons are added up with the rest of the cash.
2. The Journey Begins
After the coupons have been used to balance the register, all of the coupons in the store are collected and mailed to the store’s corporate headquarters. At the corporate headquarters, coupons from all of the individual stores are grouped together.
3. The Clearinghouse
Major grocery store chains like Kroger can receive millions of dollars worth of coupons in just a week, so to them coupons mean big money.
Once the corporate headquarters gathers all of the coupons, they’re sent to a third party clearinghouse. In some cases, there are so many coupons that one clearinghouse will have to hire another just to deal with the volume.
4. The Sorting
If you’re the type of person who loves to organize and sort things, you may want to consider a job in a coupon clearinghouse.
Once the coupons arrive at the clearinghouse, they have to get sorted. A conveyer system scans as many of the bar codes as possible, but there are still hundreds of thousands of coupons that don’t get scanned because they’re damaged. Coupons that don’t scan have to be sorted and added by hand.
5. The Total
Finding out how much money you owe can make anyone a little testy. Sometimes when the numbers come in, things can get a little heated in the coupon business.
After the clearinghouse has counted all the coupons, they send an invoice to the manufacturer of the products for which the coupons were used. Manufacturers can challenge the coupon count if they feel there are a significant number of fake or copied coupons. Sometimes, manufacturers will do their own count in-house just to check for fraud.
6. Where’s the Money?
This is a question we have all asked at some point: “How do I get paid?”
A common misconception is that stores are losing money on coupons. While they accept coupons initially as cash, stores are paid by the manufacturer after all of the sorting is done. Manufacturers will either pay the stores directly or the clearinghouse will pay the stores and the manufacturer pays the clearinghouse. No matter what, the stores get their money. In addition, merchants are typically reimbursed $0.08 per coupon for the handling process required to get the coupons counted.
Sign up to receive more money-saving deals with the weekly Coupon Sherpa email newsletter.