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DEAR JILL: This weekend’s coupon inserts have some of the smallest text I have ever seen on a coupon.

Some of the coupons are so small that they don’t even have room for a photo of the product on them anymore. I saw this with a name-brand laundry detergent. Another coupon was so small that it did not have the name or brand of the product printed on it. It simply said it was valid on “any one 30ct or 50ct product,” with a tiny picture of a bottle. Vitamins, possibly? The bottle was less than a half-inch high, and it was impossible to make out the logo.

Meanwhile, there are large, half-page photos of people smiling and using laundry detergent and whatnot. They really need to ditch the pictures and start making coupons usable again! — Michaela L.

I, too, have noticed that the text on some coupons has shrunken to a point that it’s difficult for me to read — and I don’t wear glasses. I do keep a thin, flat, bookmark-style magnifier in my coupon wallet to lay over that tiny text and make it discernible. It’s frustrating because I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for people with vision issues to read and understand what’s printed there.

I do wonder at times if making paper coupons more difficult to use is part of a larger scheme to transfer to digital coupons. It’s no secret that the coupon industry would prefer a shift to digital — they have far more control over offers and redemption.

Over the years, many consumers have also asked me why the product photos in coupon inserts are often so large, while the coupons themselves are small. The product images are large and colorful to catch your eye and cement the brand and product in your mind in the hope that you’ll buy it the next time you go to the store.

While the manufacturer also provides coupons for you that they’ll reimburse the store for if you use the coupons to buy the product — guess what? From a financial standpoint, it’s better for the brand if you see the product in the ad, forget your coupon and buy it anyway. They’ve sold you the item without having to pay for your usage of the coupon that accompanied their advertisement.

Each time I explain this, I receive emails from readers insisting it can’t possibly be true — but it is.

Let’s take this theory a step further. If you really wanted to use as much of the page as possible for an advertisement, while also discouraging people from actually using the coupons … might you make the coupons small and hard to read? Again, these questions are my own and solely hypothetical, but keep in mind that many brands would prefer a shift to digital coupons. Making their own paper coupons more difficult to read or more frustrating to use could give marketers more “evidence” that their digital offers are more effective and have higher redemption rates.

I’m a huge fan of paper coupons, and I don’t want to see their demise. I’ve also worked on the industry side of couponing for over a decade, and for nearly as long, I’ve heard that we’re “just a few years away” from coupons going all-digital. Back in 2011, I attended a conference where an online, digital coupon insert was presented as the next big thing that would surely eliminate the paper coupon insert. Well, 10 years later, we still have paper coupons arriving in our newspapers each week — even if they’re small and difficult to read.

The best advice I can give is to find a magnification solution that works for you, but don’t stop using paper coupons. There’s a simplicity and reliability to them that isn’t yet equaled in digital form. If for any reason a coupon does not scan, the cashier can manually assist you. This isn’t always the case with digital offers, and it’s one of the reasons I still prefer paper.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, Email your own couponing victories and questions to

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