Couponing Basics

Coupon Etiquette Tip #1: Don’t Clear the Shelves

Have you ever been excited about a great coupon deal only to get to the store and find a big empty shelf where the product should be? I think almost every couponer has experienced this disappointment!

Sometimes shelves are empty for legitimate reasons: the store did not order sufficient stock because they did not anticipate a high demand, there was limited supply available and the stores could only get the small amount, or someone simply needed a large amount (someone throwing a party perhaps needed a large quantity of bagged snacks). However, sometimes the shelves are cleared because of couponers.

Defining a “Shelf Clearer”

  • You are NOT a shelf-clearer if you go to the store and there is only 1 product on the shelf and you buy it.
  • You are NOT a shelf-clearer if there are only 2-3 products on the shelf and you buy them.
  • You are NOT a shelf-clearer if it is the last day of the sale and you buy the last several products on the shelf.
  • You are NOT a shelf-clearer if there are a significant number of products on the shelf and you buy a large quantity that does not come close to clearing the shelf.
  • You ARE a shelf-clearer if there are a limited number of products on the shelf and you buy all or most of them.
  • You ARE a shelf-clearer if you shop the first day of the sale and buy all or most of the products on the shelf.

Please know that, while you may or may not care, how you coupon shop does affect others. You also may not be aware of this, but being a shelf-clearer can also affect YOU!

How Being a Shelf Clearer Affects You

1. When you clear shelves, all those unhappy customers who find empty shelves will complain to the store. The store will then begin enforcing limits on the number of products sold to each customer. That means, even if you legitimately have a need for 10 packages of chicken (big family cookout) – sorry! The store will only allow you to buy 2 at a time.

2. When you clear the shelves, people will blame the couponers. The stores will then change their coupon policies. These new coupon policies will probably cramp your coupon-style. The store might stop offering double coupons, limit 1 “like” coupon per transaction, or scrutinize every single coupon you use (meaning you’ll be spending a long time in line).

3. When you clear the shelves, the manufacturers will know it. They do not want to print a large quantity of coupons and have one person redeem them all. They want a large number of people to redeem them. The manufacturer will start putting limits on coupons that will only allow you to use one coupon per transaction or even per customer.

I completely understand how much fun couponing is. It is a lot of fun to get one body wash for free, and it’s 100 times more fun to get 100 bottles for free. However, you don’t have to have all the fun NOW. I would much rather get one or two body washes for free now and continue to get free products for many more years, than get 100 body washes for free now and NO body washes for free in the future because of strict coupon policies!

Tips For Shelf Clearers

  • If you must buy a large quantity of products, please call your store and special order the products. This will allow you to buy what you need and will allow other shoppers to buy what they need. Many stores are happy to do this.
  • If you get to the store and see a limited number of products left, please evaluate your need for the product. Do you already have a year’s supply at home? Is it a product you truly need and will use in the near future? If the answer is no, pass it up. More deals are ALWAYS around the corner, and you will probably come across the same sale again in a few weeks.
  • If you live near several stores, you could buy a few at one store and a few at the other. This way neither store is completely wiped out of the product.
  • Even if you are donating the products, you are still a shelf-clearer – nothing has changed. Many families use coupons because they need to. They do it so they don’t have to go to food banks. You can still give to food banks without clearing the shelves – you could donate from your stockpile at home or even offer to teach a coupon class! Don’t donate in an effort to justify your extreme couponing habit.

Please know that I am not against donating or building a stockpile. I think both are excellent and are just a couple of the many perks of couponing. However, you CAN do both of those things without clearing shelves and ruining couponing for everyone.

:: Coming up next up in the coupon etiquette series: “Don’t be a Peelie Thief.”

    39 Comments

  1. I would LOVE to print this out and hang them on shelves when sales start! The CVS in my town gets hit up by the same person every week. I have seen her multiple times with a cart just tossing every product on the shelf into her cart! I didnt pay much attention to it until the day came that I walked in to find her clearing the shelf of the shampoo I was planning on buying right then. I walked up and took a shampoo and a conditioner and she actually had the nerve to turn to me and say “I was buying that. You took it from me” I just told her she couldnt get them all everytime and walked away. I LOVE your tips on couponing by the way! I have learned so much!

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  2. I totally agree with preaching against shelf clearing…I have a family of 4, three of which are men. I try to buy one for each of us, that way maybe, I’m not hoarding and can provide things my family needs. However, there is a lady in our local area that is a shelf clearer and then proceeds to go around to the neighborhoods and sells it from the trunk of her car. She uses this as her “JOB”. I know this because she used to stop at my house until I ask her how she does this. I understand FREE enterprise, but it is very frustrating to the rest of us who just want to buy a few things at a time with coupons to find that the shelves are empty. Thank you for your postings and letting the rest of us vent… I just wish those that do hoard, would take the time to read it too.
    Cynthia

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    • I have also seen the yard-salers with tables full of couponed products. It is frustrating, but with more and more stores enforcing limits, they will eventually have to find another business idea.

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  3. I hate it when I go to the store and the deal of the day is wiped out…. I have been couponing for 5 months, and its upsetting missing out on those deals, So be nice and share the wealth with everyone thanks
    Candi

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  4. SO Glad you brought up this subject!!!!Why do you need 100 cans of cat food if you don’t have a cat? (on Extreme Couponing on TLC) this is HOARDING!!!! They need therapy…and have forced merchants to create very stringent rules that affect all of us.

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    • I know …I dont understand why anyone would buy things like the cat food or on another episode before I stopped watching it buying all the diapers and they dont have a child or any plans on having children until after they get married later on, then why buy them now…I only buy things we use alot or that we use but I only buy it when it is on sale and I have a coupon for it.

      I experienced my 1st negativity of being someone who coupons and also shares my coupon..I was buying some candy at our local grocery store and I had extra coupons for the candy so I offered a coupon to another customer..he yelled at me “the candy is already on sale lady..I dont need your [email protected] coupon”..I said ok and walked away..1st time I have ever been yelled at yet alone told no about a coupon. This elderly lady came up to me later when we were buy the cheese that was on sale to make sure I was ok and tell me that some people are just that way and she thought it was nice I offer my coupons to others..I then showed her a coupon that was there for the cheese in addition to the sale that the store was giving out.

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  5. I was so frustrated last night at Walgreen’s because of shelf emptiers. It was only Wednesday, so there should have been plenty of the on-sale items, but they were cleaned out of a couple of items that I really wanted. Oh well, better luck next time I guess. I just wish people wouldn’t do it.

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  6. I think your article is well written in explaining that shelf clearing will probably cause stores to “change the rules” and I hope that it does because I miss out on some specials because the product is already gone by the time I get there. But I also don’t believe that we have any right to thumb our noses up at shelf clearers because they are not breaking any rules at this time. It’s first come – first serve. You can’t expect everything to go your way. If it’s that important then you should get up early and be the first one there at the store, but in reality, some of us have more important things to do. I am not a shelf clearer but I think it’s unrealistic to expect common courtesy from a lot of people and you should prepare yourself for empty shelves instead of getting so disappointed each time you go to the store. Like I said, I hope the rules do change because I think a lot of people are taking these sales a far too extreme. I hope to build a stockpile too but I’m doing it the slow and steady way.

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  7. I went to an Albertsons store this morning to grab a couple of Dawn dishwashing detergent that are on sale. To my surprise, the entire shelf was completely cleared of Dawn detergent except for 2 bottles (one of which had a broken cap). A worker at the store said that 2 women came in yesterday (the first day of the sale) and filled 2 shopping carts with the Dawn detergent. Who needs that much dishwashing liquid???

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  8. Most of the stores in my area now refuse to do more than one transaction per store trip because of that show. They make you leave the store and come back in for each transaction. I personally appreciate this because that means it is so much harder for people to be shelf clearers and leaves some stuff for the rest of us who are just trying to save money on our everyday needs!! Great post!!

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  9. i believe the falout from this show are already happening i went to cvs yesterday to get a few things on sale surprisingly they did have most of things but when i went to check out cashier was very rude looed at every coupon under a microscope and refused 1/3 of my coupons! they were all valid for the products i had but refused to listen and didnt even try to scan them! went down the street to winn-dixie same thing happened ! im i being paranoid ? i know what im doing been couponing since i was a kid so whats the deal? oh THAT SHOW was on last night there is noway any store i know would let any one do 10 or 20 transactions just so some greedy persons take all the products !

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  10. Thank you for this series! as a new couponer I want to learn to do it right! I have witnesses shelf clearing myself.

    A while back when the all laundry detergent was on sale a woman put 50 in her cart as I am standing there waiting, I kindly asked her if she would mind giving me two or three from her stack (since there was no more) and I would give her my diaper coupons she laughed at me and said some not so nice things. Once she got to the register (I ended up right be hind her) the cashier said we only take three like coupons. So she stood there and did seperate transactions The store was pretty busy and only the one cashier.

    Its things like that which earn couponers a bad rep. I greatly appreciate this new series!!

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    • Wow, goodness. I remember one time at an Albertson’s double sale. Some ladies got there right as they opened and took all the toothpaste. I watched them do it as I patiently waited for them to move their carts so I could get some. When I realized they took them all, I asked if I could have some and they gave me one tube out of the full basket they took. UGH.

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  11. Our local Giant puts Eight O’Clock coffee on a bogo sale approx every 3-4 months so I usually gather my coupons and buy 16 bags of it when on sale. I go to 2-3 different stores to make my purchases, though, precisely because I don’t want to clear the shelves. It’s nothing but rudeness on the shelf-clearer’s part. Period.

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  12. thank you. This was great. I get so frustrated when I go into a store just to see cleared shelves. I coupon because I have too….we are so strapped for money. It hurts my wallet when shelves are cleared and I need to go to option B which is more money out of my wallet than I expected. And now I see first hand how stricter the stores are getting which just hurts us all in the long run

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  13. Exactly right! Why do people take all the products? I don’t even think it’s right to buy hundreds of boxes of coupon specials to give to charities because businesses can’t afford those expenses. These people are not only driving up costs, they are forcing stores & manufacturers to offer fewer coupons & specials! These people are going to be on “hoarders” next.

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  14. I completely agree with this article, i think it is un fair to others shoppers who are trying to save money so they can feed their families, not buy 30 bottles of mustard and clear the shelve just so your trophy pantries are full.. I think people have taken a great way to save to a whole new level, it brings out lots of greed and anxiety and all just to see the receipt saying you saved 100,200,300 dollars.. and because of this lots of stores are changing their policies and penalizing everyone who has a coupon in hand!!

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  15. I think I’m already seeing the effects of extreme couponing in my area. I don’t think the deals are as great as they once were and the coupons are not as good either. It’s a shame, because prices are higher, too.

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  16. This happens to me just about everytime Albertsons has cereal for 1.99. I plan on buying 5 which will last about a month, so I only have to buy it every other trip, but end up with 2 or 3 more expesive boxes because the sale are all gone. I doubt the store is consistently under ordering, especially if it’s a store sale.

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  17. I was laughing as I read this..it is awesome. I have gone to the store like everyone and wanted 1 or 2 of the items that are on sale only to find out there are out of them. This past week I was in CVS getting a razor..I laugh all the time when I am there because they have a sign at thier register stating that CVS will no longer accept expired coupons..I was like really people try to do that..they were all like all the time…I obey the “coupon rules”..I would never ever think of trying to use an expired coupon and then argue with the clerk.

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      • I never would of even thought people tried to use expired coupons but the cashier told me that she had a lady come in the other day trying to use CVS coupons from July..and she cussed her out when they would not let her use them…its sad people have to behave that way…it gets you no where when you are rude like that.

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  18. I am so happy to know that I am not the only one irritated by TLC EXTREME COUPONERS! I fear that the manufacturers and grocery stores will probably end coupons as we know it if this continues.
    Today I saw a few minutes of extreme couponing and would you believe a woman was stealing a sunday paper off somebody’s drive-way?

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    • The best thing to do is, like Stephanie said in an earlier post, stop watching the show altogether. It also wouldn’t hurt to contact TLC and tell them how harmful it is.

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    • Actually I saw that episode Lucybird, and if you listened to what was being said just before, she was keeping tabs on the recently foreclosed homes in the area and driving by and getting those papers. The people who had just moved had better things on their minds then canceling the paper. Plus if the papers pile up, it becomes know that the house is unoccupied and invites blight into the area.

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  19. THANK YOU for your posts! I am so frustrated that week after week, I go to the stores to get what I NEED for my family – of TWO – only to find the shelves completely EMPTY! This happens week after week, month after month. I fail to believe that the sale/coupon match ups always just happen to be out, especially when searching the big stores such as the several Walmarts in my area, and only those items on my list are the exact ones with the empty shelf. I’m not asking for much – usually only 1 or 2 of the items. I only hope that the people who NEED to be reading your post, will!
    Thank you for your efforts. Keep up the great work!

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    • Thank you for the encouragement, Jan! I know what you mean, I get frustrated sometimes because I live in an area with a lot of couponers. I used to try to get up early on Sundays and go before church, but it’s not worth it to do that anymore. I just wait until they restock later in the week and try then.

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  20. This past weekend I got an up and personal view of someone with a bad case of the greeds. I only have 1 Sunday that I’m off from work. So I planned my Walgreens shopping trip the night before. I got there as soon as they opened. I was wanting one of those Remington Razors that was $4.99 with a RR for $4.99. There was a man looking at the razors and I was waiting for him to get his items. All of a sudden he went for the Remington razors and grabbed every one of them hanging on the pegs. It was my first glimpse of the ugly side of couponing. I was stunned.

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    • UGH. It is really disheartening to see people do that. Thankfully, razor deals come around pretty often – so you can hopefully beat this guy to the deal next time. 🙂

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  21. When I was a new couponer, this was something I wondered about. I didn’t want to do anything unethical, but I wanted to get enough for our family to last until the next sale.

    This is SUCH great advice to those who are just starting out, and I know plenty of veteran couponers who should read this too!

    Definitely a timely post with Extreme Couponing coming on tonight!

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    • Thanks for your comment Rachel! I think most people go overboard when they first start couponing – I know I did! I’m so glad I was able to calm down and now I just buy what I know our family will use.

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  22. Pingback: EXTREME COUPONING – Season 2 {The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly}

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