Have you ever really taken the time to look at your coupons and wondered what the heck all those different numbers mean?! Well, my goal today is to break down the bar codes, so that you are more confident and educated when using your coupons!
Please note that I am in no way trying to provide information that allows you to use coupons inappropriately or for an unintended use!
Here we go…
First of all, the company that produces the bar codes for coupons is called GS1. Over the past few years, they have slowly started making changes to how barcodes appear on coupons in efforts to bring data integrity and efficiency to coupons. The new system was needed to help companies with U.P.C. Company Prefixes greater than 6-digits and also to allow a larger number of optional fields for specifying the more complex coupon offers in use today.
Check out the progression of how coupon bar codes have changed over the years…
Coupons that were issued before 2008 had two UPC bar codes on them (called the UPC-A and the GS1-128), as seen in the top coupon image above. Then in 2008, the barcodes changed to look like the middle coupon above. They included the UPC-A (on left) and the GS1 DataBar Barcode (on right).
Starting in 2010 (and for the most part as of today), coupons started gradually converting to look like the example above. You will see that the standard UPC-A barcode is missing from the left-hand side and only the second DataBar Barcode is there now. The purpose for this is that the DataBar barcode contains a lot more information that will ultimately make your shopping trip go faster, such as the expiration date, weight of the products accepted, exact products, quantity and any other information or restrictions that the manufacturer would like to put in the coupon. (Example: Do Not double, etc.).
OK, so now that you understand coupon coding, do you really know how the process of coupon redemption works for stores?! What do stores do with those stacks of coupons that they collect from all of us savvy shoppers?
Coupon Redemption Process:
*Manufacturers design coupon promotions with their sales/marketing teams
*Coupons are distributed via newspaper inserts, direct mail campaigns, via the internet etc.
*A very “hip” shopper excitedly enters the store and proudly uses all of his/her coupons at checkout 😉
*The cashier scans the coupons and puts them into the cash drawer. Typically, at the end of the day the coupons in each cash drawer are added up as if they were cash, and that amount is added to the cash sum to be sure the overall total for the drawer is accurate.
*Once per week, all of the manufacturers’ coupons (and any coupons issued by the grocer) are sent in plastic bags or pouches to the store’s corporate headquarters.
*There is a very lucky person at headquarters in charge of processing the coupons. That person boxes all of the bags of coupons and ships them to a third-party clearinghouse.
*The clearinghouse is then responsible for doing the most important part of the coupon redemption process– separating the coupons by manufacturer or by scannable coupons versus damaged/torn coupons. Most of this process is done by hand. Sometimes coupons are put face up on a conveyor belt and move under a scanner that reads the UPC codes and tallies the amounts. However, damaged and torn coupons have to be tallied by hand. The clearinghouse then sends all the sorted coupons with an invoice to the manufacturer.
If you are a visual learner like me, you may find the video above quite helpful. It was produced by ProLogic, one of the largest clearinghouses in the coupon industry. Click here if you can’t see the video.
*The manufacturer will reimburse stores the face value of coupons or if the coupon calls for free merchandise, for the retail-selling price up to the stated maximum value printed on the coupon PLUS 8-12¢ for handling each coupon properly redeemed (this 8-12¢ value may vary slightly). Many times manufacturers, such as ConAgra Foods, will also reimburse retailers that are using a clearinghouse or billing agent at a rate equal to $5.50 per thousand of coupons redeemed.
*The manufacturer either reimburses the clearinghouse for the amount of the invoice, and the clearinghouse mails a check to the store for the amount of the coupons OR the manufacturer sends a check directly to the store and the store then pays the clearinghouse. (The clearinghouse is paid a certain amount per coupon by the store, plus shipping and handling).