Dear Jill: I heard that with the coronavirus, stores are going to stop taking paper coupons! I know some stores have stopped accepting returns, but do you think this is something more stores will do to reduce the coronavirus risk? — Lindsay S.
Dear Jill: My store used to have coupons in their ad each week. Last week’s ad says their store coupons will now only be offered electronically due to COVID-19. Instead of cutting them out, I now have to go online and load them to my loyalty card. I hope they do not stop taking all paper coupons. — Nellie T.
The rumor that stores would stop accepting paper coupons began in March when one store, BJ’s Wholesale Club, announced that it would stop taking paper coupons to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. To date, this is the only large chain store that I’m aware of that has refused to take paper coupons.
After this announcement, coupon blogs and websites ran with the “gloom and doom” news that other stores might follow in banning paper coupons. However, that hasn’t happened, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s been tough enough to save money during a time where grocery shopping has become more difficult for a variety of reasons: out-of-stock items, brand substitutions, lack of manufacturer-funded sales and price reductions, and higher-than-normal demand due to far more shoppers preparing all meals at home.
I’m not an expert on viruses, but it seemed that if stores could continue accepting cash dollar bills, the risk would be about the same as taking paper coupons.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the coronavirus lasts up to four days on paper and under 24 hours on cardboard surfaces due to porosity. If there were a significant risk to viruses being transferred via paper, we would have heard about stores refusing to accept cash due to the coronavirus. However, there have been minimal instances of retailers reportedly doing so. In fact, one state, Massachusetts, reminded retailers in April that refusing to accept cash was against state law.
Far more retailers implemented bans on returned items instead of coupons, which is understandable as the virus can live up to three days on plastics and five days on metal and glass. Target suspended returns for three weeks in March. Several national chain supermarkets and drugstores, including Kroger, Albertsons stores and CVS Pharmacy, suspended returns indefinitely.
I believe that shoppers, retailers and manufacturers alike are looking forward to shopping getting back to normal soon. Over the past few weeks, my local stores’ weekly ads have slowly grown, featuring more pages and offers again. The number of coupons appearing in my newspaper’s weekly coupon inserts has also increased — it’s nice to open the paper and feel that the coupon inserts are thicker and have more pages again!
It’s a good sign when stores and retailers’ promotions start looking the way they did before the coronavirus stay-at-home orders, as it signifies multiple factors: Stores’ out-of-stock issues are leveling off, and they feel confident in advertising products in stock for everyone shopping that week, and retailers’ and manufacturers’ willingness to fund and promote attractive sale prices to consumers again.
As the risk of the virus continues to go down, shoppers are predicted to relax and return to pre-lockdown routines of shopping for what they need each week instead of making larger, more infrequent trips.
When sales and coupons fully return, I’m looking forward to resuming my usual routine of sale-shopping and couponing. I know that shopping’s going to look different when I do return to the store. Our family is still utilizing grocery pickup and delivery. But many friends have told me about and shared photos of cashier booths enclosed in clear plastic, one-way-only lane markers in grocery aisles and signage warning not to bring reusable shopping bags to the store until it is deemed safe to do so again.
I know that when I return to the store, I’ll have plenty of coupons in hand.