Grocery Coupon Craze Creates Giant-sized Throngs

February 02, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — The last day to redeem the week's free coupons coincided with a threatened snowstorm and the rush to stock up on snacks for the Super Bowl.

"Normally, 4,000 to 5,000 shoppers are here on Saturday," said Thomas G. Barron, store manager of the Super Giant. "Last week, we went way past that."

Every aisle of the store, which opened in Cranberry Square last spring, was jammed. Nearly every shopper carried a little red book, containing a month's worth of coupons.

Cashing in on the 16 giveaways, dated for redemption during successive weeks, means a $20 savings.Lines filed past 18 registers all day, said checker Ruby Osburn, whocalled the coupons good sales tools which "bring people in."

James D'Anthony, a deli clerk, spent the day stocking and restocking a dairy case full of 12-ounce packages of fresh pasta -- free with a coupon.

"The case holds about 600 packages and it emptied about four times last Saturday," he said, as he filled the case with 1-pound boxes of margarine -- one of this week's four giveaways.

Giant mails out 45,000 books from its headquarters in Landover to Carroll residents about the first of the month.

"Although we have tried this sporadically in Baltimore and D.C., Carroll County is the first area wherewe are mailing coupon books on a regular basis," said Mark E. Roeder, public affairs coordinator for Giant.

"The county is a competitive area for a new store, and the coupons help get the word out about what we have to offer."

Customers redeem the coupons and shop for more. Every week, Jeannie Shifflett makes the 20-minute drive from her Eldersburg home -- passing several other grocery stores on the way.

"Nowadays, anything free catches my attention," she said. "The coupons pull me into the store."

Betty Tawney of Westminster isn't aregular shopper at Giant, but she said she always uses coupons whilepicking up odds and ends.

Even shoppers averse to coupons are tempted to try these, said Michele Panther of Westminster.

"I don't like to bother with coupons," she said. "But I keep hearing about freesoda, free bread. I am going to use them, too."

The program is not without flaws. The popular books occasionally have been taken from shoppers' carts.

Some shoppers take unfair advantage, coming into the store with three or four books. Others use their coupons early inthe week, then ask the office for more.

"Unfortunately, some people abuse this program, and it's difficult to patrol," said Roeder. "We are hoping some new procedures will help."

Instead of giving extra books, employees ask for the customer's name and address. That information is logged into the chain's main computers. Books are mailed to customers who haven't already received them.

Officials at Martin's and SuperFresh said they don't plan to emulate the program.

"Every store has its own promotion procedures," said Lee Easton, SuperFresh's vice president for merchandising. "We continue to rely on our regular weekly advertising, with coupons, and our strong feature activity."

George's Super Thrift, with two stores in Carroll, also does mailings to about 40,000 county residences. Instead of giveaways, the coupons offer discounts on selected items.

"We get a decent redemption rate," said Mark Ciepiela, manager. "Giant is a lot bigger than us, but I don't know how they can afford to give items away."

AWeis spokeswoman declined to comment.

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