What is coupon barcode decoding and is it wrong?


OK, folks.  It's time for me to speak up.  Something's been really weighing on me and I need to get it out.

As you all know, I love a good deal and I love using coupons.  Coupons can save you lots of money.  So can store sales, rebate programs, and a host of other promotions and offers.  However, lately I've been doing a little research and finding deals that are just flat out wrong and unethical. 

In order to do my job promoting ethical usage of coupons, I feel like I need to spend some time informing of you of some of the various misuses of coupons that are out there – and learning more about them myself in the process.  One of the biggies I'm seeing lately is called coupon barcode decoding

In short, the barcode on a coupon can help determine what the coupon's value will be and what category of products it will work for.  So let's say you have a coupon that reads "$1 off any brand X, 10-ounce sized product."  After analyzing the barcode, you realize that the coupon will actually scan and work for the 5-ounce variety, too.  So you find a good sale on the 5-ounce and use your coupon and no "beeps" at checkout.  Well guess what my friend?  This is a form of coupon fraud. 

Here's why.  When you redeem the coupon, the offer is what is stated and pictured…and in many cases, the fine print will clearly state "only to be redeemed on the product mentioned/pictured above."  What's more, there's no assurance that the retailer will receive credit from the manufacturer for that coupon, either.  So please do not kid yourself thinking "if it scans, they'll get their money."  This is not necessarily the case.

I encourage you all to read this excellent post over at Moms Need to Know that discusses coupon barcode decoding at length.  She also has a series of other wonderfully written posts on coupon ethics on her site and you should read them when you get the chance.  And Hot Coupon World, a site who maintains top integrity on these issues, strictly prohibits discussion of this topic in their forums.  They have informatively answered a series of FAQs about decoding here

I understand that there are sometimes coupons where the "offer" is unclear.  What do you do in this case?  I'd personally call the store or manufacturer who issued the coupon and ask.  Simple as that.

On a final note, if you are currently a coupon blogger, I ask you – please take a stand.  Do not condone coupon decoding in any form.  Do not share deals that encourage the usage of a coupon other than its intended usage.  Do not share with your readers how they can "decode coupon barcodes" to gain greater savings.  In doing so, you are putting yourself and your blog at risk.

If you haven't already, I invite you to read my personal coupon ethics.  And please give me room to grow.  Remember, I'm still learning here too.  As I discover things, I reserve the right to change my opinion on what I see as ethical and the deals I share. 

Thank you for reading and letting me get that off my chest.  I feel much better now, and can go to bed!

Photo credit Ayhan Yildiz


  1. Keri Welch says

    Great post, Ang! I appreciate your integrity and investigative skills. :) Its amazing how even in the coupon world people try to steal. And in the end that makes it bad for all of us, just like shoplifting increases prices. I think that we also maintain our integrity when we frequent stores, the employees will respect our coupon usage and not see it as a hassle, nor will we incur any suspicious looks.

  2. says

    This is great! I’ve heard some rumblings of this from different bloggers but have never run into myself. I’m going to be doing a post soon about money-saving ethics, so I’ll be sure to link back here. Thanks for standing up and encouraging people to do the right thing!

  3. says

    Awesome – thanks, ladies. I know some are less likely to be happy with what I posted here. In recent weeks I’ve seen several bloggers advocate for using coupons other than intended…it may even be subtle…such as “guess what? this coupon will scan for this item without beeping even though it’s not pictured or mentioned on the coupon.” There’s a word for that. Fraud.

    I also don’t appreciate bloggers who advocate distracting cashiers during checkout so they won’t scrutinize coupons too closely. Guess what? If you’re doing it correctly, there shouldn’t be anything to hide. Think of it this way – a cashier can lose his or her job if the coupons aren’t scanned correctly. At most you could lose a few pennies or dollars. What’s more important?

  4. says

    Keri, I forgot to mention…you mention shoplifting increases food prices…did you know coupon fraud does too? Coupon fraud costs manufacturers MILLIONS each year. It is no small deal. Those losses are passed off onto consumers in the form of increased prices. And sometimes, less valuable coupons in the future.

  5. glenn says

    I use decoding to know when I’m going to run into problem .

    A legit MQ coded as Family Code 992 which has value of, say X, for a particular mfg. when used at Walgreens on a Register Rewards (RR)deal with same value and mfg will in invalidate that Q.

    Right Q, yes … is no good. This is coded in Walgreen register system to prevent rolls of the same RR.

    BOGO Q from Mars was ‘wrongly’ coded. We all knew it would beep. Who wants free candy so much they want to deal with beeping Q’s ? I threw them in the garbage..ligit Q’s.

    Then there are the Q’s that don’t have enough specifics…that beep. They should have a list of UPC codes that work on the Q. Yea, I know 8.5×11″ Q’s…

    Advanced users use coding to help the system work … knowing problem Q’s, helping cashier, ect.

    Then ERRORS…stuff in ads and Q’s that Don’t work as advertised…WASTE MY TIME !!!!!

  6. says

    Since you are an “advanced user,” perhaps you should consider working for some of these manufacturers to help them write their coupons! Then you could prevent beeping coupons and coupon fraud at the same time! 😉

    Seriously, have you ever called or written them to tell them of problems you’ve run into and how they could’ve corrected it in their system? Please, if you understand this, help us all out!

  7. Henry c says

    Continue the righteous fight! Amen I will pray for you and your familys success. The world needs more angels like you Angela. Reading your post has touched my moral boner egarding overall coupon use. I would luv to cumake more posts!

  8. Faith Davis says

    Or not to mention, stricter coupon rules. Was it just me or everyone else noticing a limit of 4 used in onr trip? Dont bother me, but I know some ladies this will effect. But people who are passing fraud coupons are making it so hard on us who do coupon to use them with no hassle!!
    Happy couponing ladies =)


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