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A significant change to Target’s coupon policy is having a negative impact on shoppers all over the country who use Target in-store coupons. In early October, Target added a new line to their policy: “Manufacturer coupons must scan at the register, which validates to a master file of valid coupons. Coupons not on the master file are not accepted.”

Target is the first major national retailer to use the third-party tool from Sigma Ledger that manages a “positive offer file”, which is just a list of verified coupons. This new tool whitelists verified manufacturer coupons and integrates with stores’ point-of-sale systems. Now when your coupon is scanned at Target, a call is sent out to check your coupon against this file. If it’s not found, the coupon is rejected by the register.

Target’s is hoping national brands with legitimate manufacturer coupons will jump through the extra hoop of getting onto the verified list so shoppers down the line don’t get their valid coupons turned away at checkout.

The aim of the policy change is to prevent fraud — which would be good for stores and shoppers alike. But the result, at least in the near term, has been solely negative for the shoppers we’ve heard from. In mid-October, KCL began to receive complaints from shoppers whose valid manufacturer coupons were being rejected at Target stores. Our teams tested and confirmed the same. And we’ve continued to test regularly. The latest tests performed on Nov 14 resulted in a 50% acceptance rate across the valid paper coupons we tested.

We reached out to Target to get answers. Here’s what we know and what you should be aware of before your next trip to Target.

To stay up-to-date on all the latest Target deals, text TARGET to 57299.

 

Target in-store coupon policy quietly changed on Oct. 3.

person holding manufacturer's coupon that won't work at target self check-out

In early October, Target added a new bullet point to their official coupon policy indicating a big shift in their approach to paper manufacturer coupons, either printable coupons or newspaper coupons. Instead of only a minimum requirement that a valid coupon must scan in order to be accepted, now there is a second hurdle to clear: your valid coupon must be included on a pre-verified list. That list is maintained by a third party and is inaccessible to shoppers. Without knowing what coupons will or won’t be accepted based on a verified list, couponers are telling us they’re facing major frustration at checkout.

The change went into effect in select regions on October 3rd and have been expanding nationwide ever since. The uptick in user complaints on KCL began on October 16th.

At KCL, we’re all about empowering shoppers with knowledge so they can feel good about their purchases. And at least in the first few weeks since this change, coupon users across the country are operating in the dark, not knowing which valid coupons will or won’t work at their Target in store. Many have shared they are choosing not to shop with

target self-checkout screen indicating manufacturer's coupon is not accepted

 

The entire aim of the change is meant to reduce fraud.

A woman standing at the Target checkout, both her and the cashier reaching to take something out of the Target hand basket sitting on the conveyer belt.

Couponing fraud is a very real problem for manufacturers and retailers, costing hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Target’s new “master list” policy will provide an extra layer of scrutiny for manufacturer coupons. It’s already reduced counterfeit coupon acceptance by 95%, according to a Target spokesperson we spoke with.

Whether intentional or accidental, fraud costs brands and stores millions each year. Eliminating fraud would build confidence and reduce risk in ways that could lead to more Target coupons available to shoppers.

 

Target in-store coupons now must be whitelisted in order to be accepted.

A person holding tide manufacture coupons in one hand and a Target gift card in the other, with a shopping card containing laundry detergents in the background.

Basically, if your coupon isn’t on the list — even if it’s completely legit — it’ll get rejected by the system. The rejection based on the new list isn’t largely a reflection of fraud at this point. It’s more often a reflection of which brands have and haven’t gone through the verification process.

Brands we know have not gone through the verification process (because KCL employees and readers have tested and had these brands’ coupons rejected) include Lysol coupons, Eucerin coupons, and Dove coupons.

 

The third-party tool powering this change had only 30% of manufacturers in its system upon launch.

via GIPHY

In a rush to get this change pushed out the door, Target launched the new policy, knowing that only 30% of consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers were in the third-party system. That means Target was aware there would be a large-scale issues for shoppers and they rolled it out anyway.

This means that two thirds of all paper manufacturer coupons were being rejected by the Target point of sale system. As of mid-November, our team’s tests are showing that about 50% of our valid paper coupons are now accepted.

 

If your coupon isn’t on the verified list, you’re at the cashier’s mercy.

person holding manufacturer coupons near target cart

Our community and our team members have had coupons turned away entirely after they didn’t scan at checkout. No work-arounds have been offered. But it sounds like this isn’t the intent of Target corp. Here’s what should be happening, according to our conversation with a Target spokesperson:

“Not all manufacturers who issue coupons are on the master file of valid coupons. In these cases, when a coupon is denied by POS, our team members will solve the experience for our guests by quickly reviewing the paper coupon to determine its accuracy and manually applying the coupon at POS. If the team member remains unsure of a coupon’s accuracy, they can ask Assets Protection to review the transaction. It’s our goal to continue to put the guest experience first while continuing to reduce coupon fraud. Additionally, we are actively working with industry partners to increase participation in the master file of coupons.”

If your legitimate manufacturer coupon is denied by the cashier, we recommend asking for a manager to review the transaction with Assets Protection. And while it’s never a good time to spend an extra five minutes holding up a line, the more of us that speak up, the sooner stores will dig in, figure out the secondary verification methods, and experiences will be better for the shoppers after you. Remember that it wasn’t your store cashiers and managers that made the call to release a less-than-half-baked program. They’re saddled with the burden of wading through this just like shoppers are.

 

The hope is that as more brands get on the verified list, this all smooths out, and everybody wins.

Woman looks through newspaper insert inside a grocery store.

This change doesn’t actually worry me about how to coupon at Target long-term. I expect Target will use their weight to push brands to get on the verified list quickly while keeping an eye on shopper feedback. “We are actively working with industry partners to increase participation in the master file of coupons,” a Target spokesperson told KCL. “It’s our goal to continue to put the guest experience first while continuing to reduce coupon fraud.”

If Target and Sigma Ledger pull this off, it’ll be a good thing, but we’re calling it like we see it, and our assessment is the initial launch has been a mess.

Target's Fight Against Fraud Is Causing Chaos Around In-Store Coupons