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By Jill Cataldo, Coupon Queen, Published January 11 2013

Coupon Queen: Many unhappy returns

Oh, the woe of the shopper who must return a purchase. Most of the time it goes smoothly, but occasionally some of my readers hit snags when returning an item they decided they didn’t want or need.

Q: A big toy store is also big on tricks. It was running a sale: buy two video games and get one game free. I selected three games and put them in no particular order on the counter when I bought them. As it turned out, I needed to exchange one game because the kids already had it. As it happened, this game was the third one scanned at the register, so the value was listed on my receipt as $0.00. When I went to return the game, the store insisted that it had no value. They would not exchange the game. I was livid. Of course the game had value! What if it had been rung up first? But the store wouldn’t exchange it. Another store in the same chain also refused. I vowed not to shop there again. – Carol S.

A: I have to admit, this problem is new to me. One would think that a simple exchange wouldn’t be a big deal, especially with the receipt in hand proving you bought the game at this store. I agree that the “free” game still has a dollar value. I’m sure the store would have something to say if a person decided to walk out the front door with the same game without paying for it! It’s a shame that the store doesn’t value customer service and was willing to lose this reader as a customer.

The next readers have questions about returning items they purchased using coupons.

Q: I recently bought laundry detergent for about $12 and used a $3 coupon. My wife said I didn’t get the right kind and asked me to return it. The customer service clerk refunded the amount minus the coupon value, saying that the store can only refund the sum I actually paid. I said OK, and then asked if the store will give back the $3 to the company that reimburses them for coupons. The clerk shrugged and didn’t answer the question. What is the correct procedure for both the shopper and the merchant when you return an item purchased using a coupon? – Phil F.

Q: I purchased eight items at a grocery store where I thought they doubled coupons up to $1. After I paid, I realized that the coupons were not doubled. The cashier said the store had discontinued the coupon-doubling program. So, I said I would return the items. But she said she could not give me the coupons back because they were already in the system. Isn’t that illegal? Please clear up this up!

– Chris G.

A: When you return an item with a coupon, the store can opt to handle the transaction in one of the following ways. It may refund the price you paid, post-coupon, or it may refund the full purchase price, including the coupon’s value. Either way is correct. It is up to the store to set its policy on how to handle returns involving coupons.

One reason many stores opt to return only the money a shopper actually paid for an item is to reduce fraud. Less scrupulous shoppers can become “serial returners,” buying items with high-value coupons then returning everything and making a profit.


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, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.