Thursday, 9 July 2015

Forget the fries - 'do you want coupons with that?'

It’s been quite a while since I last made a post which probably has too many shockingly embarrassing typos and grammatical errors...


Apologies for the delay, turns out doing a law conversion course, a part-time job and general life doesn’t allow as much time to write entries as I foresaw. The positive is that I have been stockpiling ideas since September. So many I’m not actually sure how to approach any of them or in what logical order to try and research, write and upload them. What I do know for sure though is I won’t be looking at just literary texts or materials, but a lot more variety of mediums alongside literary or other food-based texts I’ve gathered. Hopefully be a lot more of a dynamic and dare I say interactive set of blog entries!

So, on the topic of stockpiling – this post will be about coupons, vouchers and the undermining of the food industry. Baptism of fire to get back into things, right?

I think it would be a fair generalisation we all love a bargain. Whether it be a student discount of all manner of foodstuffs (lord knows my sweet tooth was shamefully satiated with the free ‘ice-cream’* that came with any McDonald’s meal* and my ole’ faithful student ID card), buy one pizza* get one free (useful for missions in the library with my friends until 9am desperately trying to finish an assignment) or meal deals at restaurants that make eating out a much more feasible option. Simply put discounts and offers are a godsend.

*I fully realise these foods are not the healthiest, but I have selected these foods for good reason as hopefully will be explained in the next blog entry. While at university I actually always made sure I had a pretty balanced diet and couldn’t cope without a few fruit or veg every day!

However, is there a stage to which this all goes too far?

The answer to that question, I feel, can be answered in three words: American reality television or to be more precise using just two words - Extreme Couponing.

Sometimes in life you need trash daytime TV. Everyone knows it but nobody says it. I’ve watched many an episode of EC in bemusement at how much these people save, often exclaiming to myself AMERICA HOW DO YOU WORK THIS SYSTEM MAKES NO SENSE’. 
This isn’t a feeble buy one get one free or free blob of frozen... stuff. Oh how these coupon collectors would mock me. No, these are the people that have a retail price of $2000 for a 12hr shopping trip, to come home paying less than $10 if that.

The show always shows the stockpile that these people have collected over the months/years. One woman in particular had a stockpile worth around $33,000, which was stored in a purpose built barn, which is also INSURED for its contents. Madness. Obviously not all of the items were food, but a lot of it was. Nonetheless, at the rate these people are going by consistently going coupon shopping and topping up their stockpiles – there is no way on earth they will ever run out of, well, anything. It begs the question why? How?

From what I gather, inserts from magazines, local papers, flyer's etc. are the source of coupons, which can either be from the manufacturer of the product itself, or the store in question, or both. If the latter a coupon is effectively ‘doubled’ – making couponing a numbers game with highly lucrative consequences. Now any sane reader must be thinking ‘this is a good thing what is he on about?’ and you would have a good point. I would retort that question with eventual economic collapse of the industry as we know it.

By watching this show, you sit in amazement as the programme impliedly expresses to you how easy couponing can be if you are savvy enough. By advertising and effectively normalising dumpster diving to find that extra coupon essential for an extra bargain the show may as well be saying‘you can do this too if you coupon like us’ is subliminally fed (pun intended) to the brains of viewers.

Using the same numbers game that these coupon royalty often use, if a shop purchases say 1000 toothbrushes or cans of a popular fizzy drink at a discounted trade bulk rate and they are essentially giving 100 or 200 away for free, they would be at a loss. Similarly, if everyone who went to this hypothetical shop followed the implied message from the show which I have identified above, these stores would rapidly be losing money and consequently go out of business. I would be interested to know if any store has fell foul to a ‘discount’ for customers. By losing out on what must already be relatively tight profit margins as it is it makes a mockery of the system (whether you consider that to be the food and consumer industry or capitalism is up for you to decide!)

The broadcaster that make this show, TLC have even gone so far as to make an ‘all-stars’ version of the show where people who have been featured compete for the highest retail saving. See the video below to see how well they fare...

The first episode I watched left me with joy and euphoria for these people who can work the system and get the majority of a ginormous shop for free, only actually paying a minuscule percentage instead.

However after watching a second and third episode respectively a wave of unease fell over me. By getting such a sheer volume of stuff for free or virtually nothing food no longer is the source of nutrition or energy, but a competitive sport or hobby that if this show is to be believed takes over a person’s life. I have seen episodes where the shops entire stock of a product is instantly removed from the shelf, (quite literally people flinging an entire shelf into a trolley!) because someone with countless coupons have decided to stroll in that day and ‘needed’ 200 toothbrushes or 400 packets of ramen noodles that day.

What I am getting at, which I would like you readers to comment and hopefully get a discussion going – is the attempt by manufacturers and stores alike to encourage shoppers to buy particular products provoke, and ultimately evoke, an element of selfishness and/or greed  - or is this simply an awkward consequence of a good deal? Alternatively is this something we should embrace here in the UK/Europe, or be hesitant to adopt such liberal use of the potentially problematic coupon?

A little embarrassing, but I genuinely had a dark moment of anxiety seeing this on the kitchen counter a few days ago...

Food for thought.