If you're an avid grocery couponer, brace yourself for some big changes at Publix.
Publix largely dominates the grocery market in Florida and has one of the industry's most lenient coupon policies.
But now, more shoppers than ever are aggressively using coupons. So-called "extreme couponing" is taking off, fueled by TV shows highlighting shoppers paying mere pennies for hundreds of dollars in groceries.
Publix will officially announce its moves Saturday and put them into practice Monday, May 23. Word started leaking this week, though, and company officials confirmed many of the details Wednesday.
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Coupon bloggers were relieved that the worst of their fears didn't come true, as Publix will retain its signature buy-one-get-one-free BOGO deals.
Here are some of the bigger changes:
BOGOs: Each item will be considered a separate sale. Publix will accept a manufacturer's coupon plus either a Publix coupon or a competitor's coupon on the same item.
Example: If Cheez-It crackers are BOGO, you can combine a $1 manufacturer coupon with another coupon on the full-price box – then do the same thing on the free box. There will be a maximum of two coupons on each item.
Competitor coupons: Publix honors coupons issued by rival stores like Sweetbay or Target as a way to retain loyalty among shoppers. Now, Publix will tighten the rules for which stores it considers rivals.
A list of accepted competitors will be posted on the front door of each Publix store.
The list will vary store to store, and Publix considered a variety of factors – whether a rival company sells products reasonably considered groceries, which may exclude drug, wine or convenience stores; the proximity to the store, though there is no hard-and fast radius; and whether a competitor issues coupons, potentially excluding Walmart.
Item limits: Publix will no longer allow customers with a stack of the same coupons to buy excessive quantities of one item, as on the TLC cable show "Extreme Couponing."
There is no pre-set rule, but rather, store managers will be told to keep an eye on inventory and look for customers who empty the shelves of a single item and talk with them before they reach the checkout lanes.
Pharmacy stores: Publix will accept coupons from competing pharmacies for prescriptions only, not for percent-off items or percent-off total order coupons. That means no Walgreens or CVS coupons for specific dollar amounts off a total order.
Big-dollar coupons: Technically, a manager will need to approve any coupon larger than $5, sometimes available on Internet deals.
In this area, the grocery industry is trying to combat coupon fraud and counterfeiting. Some coupons will be on a pre-approved list to speed up the checkout process.
Dollars off total: Stores like Sweetbay issue coupons for, say, $10 off a $50 total purchase. These will be limited to one coupon from Publix and one from a competitor per order.
The order total must be equal to or greater than the total purchase requirements indicated on the coupon or coupons presented. So you can use a $10 off $50 coupon from Sweetbay plus a $5 off $25 coupon from Publix on a total purchase of $75 or more.
Money makers: Sometimes, coupons carry a discount greater than the sale price of the item. Publix will keep its current policy of giving money back in that case.
So if there's a $2 off coupon for a box of cereal that's on sale at $1.89, the customer would actually receive 11 cents back.
With manufacturer coupons, Publix gets the discount back from product makers, "so we want to give our customers the full value as well," said Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten.
Patten said Publix hopes to create a uniform coupon policy across the company's 1,000-plus stores. Meanwhile, the company is also trying to automate coupon processing.
At 70 locations, Publix is testing new cash register scanning systems that automatically check information such as the expiration date on coupons. The goal is to speed checkout for even heavy coupon users.
Some avid coupon enthusiasts greeted the policy changes with a sigh of relief, but many still consider the policy a mixed bag for customers.
"They still want people shopping there and using coupons," said Ashley Nuzzo, editor of the coupon site FrugalCouponLiving.com.
The overall policy is reasonable, Nuzzo said, but it presents some serious drawbacks.
Her Publix in Tallahassee normally takes coupons from "all sorts" of places, she said. But Wednesday she found her store will no longer take coupons from Target, CVS or Walgreens.
"So that's a disappointment."
In terms of total price point, Publix seems to be more expensive than other national chains, except for sales and BOGO deals.
"If you shop without coupons," Nuzzo said. "You're smarter to go to Walmart."