Extreme Couponing Tip: Why Do Coupons Beep at the Register?

You’re in the checkout line, handing over your coupons that are going through like clockwork. Suddenly, you hear the dreaded “beep of death.” Your cashier tries it again only to hear that angry beep a second time.  They now either: 1. Enter the coupon manually and push it through (sometimes needing supervisor permission) or 2. Decline the coupon and hand it back to you.

So what causes this ominous beeping and what can you do about it?

PDF coupons: Sometimes registers do not like these because they don’t have a unique bar code/IP address embedded like other coupons that have print limits (such as Coupons.com). If it doesn’t scan, the cashier will either push it through or refuse it.

  • Try printing off one or two and using them on a trial basis before printing off 20 and having them all refused.
  • Always ensure the validity of PDF coupons before printing by tracing where the coupon came from. If it’s from the manufacturer’s website, it’s legitimate (but that doesn’t always translate to universal acceptance).
  • This may also be a time to temporarily turn off the Black & White/Fast Print printer settings.

Ink it up
: Make sure your printer always has a sufficient ink supply before printing.
  • When ink is low, sometimes the bar code doesn’t print out clearly and therefore won’t scan.
  • Keep an eye on ink levels via your Printer settings. Replace your ink cartridge when you get a low ink warning or at the first sign of a sketchy printout.

GS1 Bar Code
: This bar code has been featured on most coupons for a long time, though usually paired side by side with the 12-number standard UPC bar code. However, since this past summer, more and more companies are opting to leave off the UPC bar code and just keep the GS1 Databar. This contains more information within the symbol and helps crack down on illegal bar code decoding.
  • Unfortunately some stores have not yet equipped their registers to scan the GS1. This can lead to confusion, especially because cashiers have the ability to type in a UPC bar code when the coupon is having trouble scanning.
  • If this happens to you, kindly explain to the cashier about the GS1 and why it may not be scanning (they need to update their system, which you may want to take up with the store or district manager). Point out the GS1 on other coupons that also feature the UPC bar code.

Coupon Value
: If the value of the coupon is more than the price of the product, registers will often beep to alert the cashier.
  • Stores like Safeway, Target, Walgreens have a policy to adjust the value of the coupon down to meet the selling price of the item.
  • Walmart’s policy allows for overage either in cash back or applied to the basket purchase.

Some stores have a policy where they will not accept a coupon if it does not scan. If the latter is the case, there’s not much you can do besides go to another store and try it there.