Editor's Column: Grocery stores bring back the terror

They’re back, and it’s more terrifying than poltergeist. What could be worse than the return of the grocery store coupon?

Of all the cruel ideas perpetrated on the public by advertisers, the coupon was the cruelest of all. Those who had them got a better price than those who did not, even though we all kind of knew the whole thing was a hoax. You might save a buck on cheese, but somewhere else in the store, 10 other items cost 10 cents more to make up the difference.

Regardless, coupons caused jealousy, resentment, and worst of all slowed checkout lines to a crawl as coupon fanatics dug through their pockets looking for the things, or tossed a hundred of them onto the conveyor belt after everything had already been added up. Coupons were a bigger waste of time than a Mariners baseball season and the number one cause of grocery store assaults.

A few years ago, store coupons went away thanks to the store card, a piece of plastic that looks like a credit card. People resented the fact the cards let the store track your purchases, possibly to turn over to Homeland Security (been eating an awful lot of pocket break, haven’t you?). But I was all for the cards as they eliminated the need for coupons. One scan of your card and you got all the coupon prices without ever snipping a coupon from the Sunday paper.

I won’t name any particular store, as that is not a safe way to write in this litigious society, but the move to reintroduce coupons has been slow and insidious. It started with coupons for specialty sandwiches, soups and other lunch counter items. Most of us just ignored them, opting to go without lunch instead. But we feared it was only a matter of time until coupon-creep put them back in the regular grocery aisles.

The inevitable happened last week when this particular unnamed store, which really needs another entrance so there’s a safe way to get in and out of the parking lot, unveiled three coupons for basic foodstuffs: Cheese, sausage and popsicles, the mainstays of the American diet. By using these three coupons, you could save about four dollars over the regular prices. It posed a moral dilemma for shoppers: Save a few easy bucks by letting them bring back coupons, or make a principled stand against it and go without. Of course, for those of us who work and do our shopping after 5 o’clock it doesn’t really matter as all the coupon items are gone by then.

These new coupons are not regular coupons, they’re “super coupons,” kind of like the super bugs that one day will kill us all. You can’t use the coupon unless you also have the plastic card, meaning shoppers are worse off than we were before the cards came out. Now, the card simply allows you access to coupon prices, which you get by clipping a coupon. Then Homeland Security will know you’ll do anything to save a buck, which may not be good.

If the store wants to keep my business, it will have to come out with is a coupon card card, which you can have scanned to eliminate the need for the super coupon and card that goes with it, allowing you to use your card card to get the good price. Ultimately, this no doubt will result in the super, super coupon, which we’ll have to cut out of the paper and present with two cards. But we’ll worry about that when the time comes.

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