Zip Code Couponing | Is It Right or Is It Wrong?

by Beth Montgomery on March 7, 2012 · 12 comments

in Coupons & Rebates, Tips & Basics

Zip code couponing. I’ve mentioned it before, but it always comes up again and again.

It sounds official, doesn’t it? Like a type of coupon fraud. Or maybe like a trick you need to learn to save more money.

Which is it? I think that’s up to you.

What is zip code couponing?

Zip code couponing is simply entering a zip code outside of your shopping area to get printable coupons not available in your area on printable coupon sites.

Zip Code Pop-Up on

Most legitimate printable coupon sites offer you the option of entering a zip code to get more coupons, such as coupons only available in your area or for local products and services. However, if you enter other zip codes, you can often find higher-value or rare coupons not otherwise available to you.

I get asked almost daily what zip code I used to find a coupon or to include zip codes with coupons, but I never do. I do have my own personal reasons.

The Debate

Argument For

Argument Against

It’s a form of bias and discrimination to only offer coupons to certain areas, just like limiting them to people of a certain race. Manufacturers limit coupons to a certain area for many reasons like:

  • Increase sales in an area
  • Successfully launch or release a product in a certain area
  • Don’t have the funds to release a coupon nationwide
  • Test certain coupons in certain markets
  • And many other reasons we may never imagine

It’s not bias or discriminating. It’s marketing. It’s the same as limiting a sale in a certain area or a coupon code to new customers.

Companies wouldn’t restrict them, if they didn’t have a reason, regardless of if we agree with that reason or not.

Coupon sites don’t proactively stop websites from sharing zip codes. A firm letter to all of their affiliates that says “knock it off” would stop most of it. By turning a blind eye, they get more prints and appear to be performing much better than they would if it was really limited to only a certain area. It makes them look better to their customers. When directly asked if it’s okay to share zip codes on websites or blogs, every representatives from coupon sites that I have personally asked has told me no, that it’s not okay for me to share zip codes with you.
If coupon sites didn’t want you to enter different zip codes, they why would they give you the option to enter a zip code at all? And why do they allow you to change it?If they were worried about it, they could use geolocation technology like Groupon to detect your location upon your arrival and only ask for a zip code if it can’t be determined or have you create an account, so you can’t change your zip code at whim. The option to enter a zip code is to get more coupons available in only your area. It you don’t want to enter a zip code, you don’t have to. It’s not so you can enter whatever zip code appeals to you at the moment.Plus, you are allowed to change your zip code in case you are traveling, to get coupons for vacation and when you’re not at your home. And, so you can get coupons for areas where you redeem them, since many of us shop in many different local zip codes. Not so you can get coupons for intended for areas you never intend to shop.
It’s not illegal. While it’s not a law, it is part of your contract with these coupon sites. The coupon sites have Terms of Use, which you agree to when using the site and printing coupons. In most of these terms, you agree to provide true and accurate information and entering a false zip code is in violation and could result in losing your account.
More often than not, it doesn’t say on the coupons that it’s only redeemable in select cities or areas. If manufacturer’s cared, they could easily add this. If a coupon was intended to target 1,000 zip codes or 100 cities for example, the coupon would have to be huge to accommodate the full list. It’s really not feasible. To meet their goals and targets, they require a zip code to print the coupon and the text found on almost all coupons saying it’s void if not redeemed as intended.
Other stores in other cities still take the coupon. Stores in other cities have no way of knowing if you entered false information to get the coupon. In many situations, they have to trust that you legitimately obtained the coupon. While the store does have responsibilities, the consumer also has their own responsibilities. Ethical couponing does not fall entirely on the shoulders of the manufacturer or the stores.
It’s not unethical to shop at store that’s not within your zip code, so I should be able to print a coupon that’s not within my zipcode. Typically coupons are available to all the zip codes within an area. It would be extremely rare to find a coupon that is available where you live, but not at the store down the street. If manufacturer’s are targeting a certain area, printing coupons within the zip codes you shop would help them with their goal. The issue is when you print coupons in areas you do not plan to shop and area’s not even within reasonable driving distance.
It’s no different than buying a newspaper at an airport from another city or exchanging coupons with a friend from another town, then bringing them home to use. Manufacture’s expect a minimal number of coupons to be relocated by natural means, but not hundreds of thousand by tricking the system. The number of people buying a newspaper from one city while traveling or exchanging coupons with a friend is minimal. However, with the internet, by publicly releasing zip codes to find more coupons, the number of coupons redeemed outside of intended areas increases substantially. It’s like comparing the views of a home movie to the views of a YouTube video.
It’s no different than purchasing coupons online from coupon clippers or on eBay. The Coupon Information Center recently added “buying coupons” to their “Strictly Prohibited” list. They even went on to specify that adding a legal disclaimer that the site is selling their time clipping coupons and not coupons themselves, still voids the terms of the coupon and does not offer any legal protection.
It doesn’t hurt anyone. If the manufacturer’s goal is to increase sales in an area or something similar, their campaign may be hurt and may even be seen as a failure. Which, in the future, could cause them to release less coupons. Taking advantage of the system often has a negative impact on all couponers.
The store gets reimbursed either way. When asked at BlogHer in 2010, Red Plum stated that the store would “not necessarily” be reimbursed if a coupon is redeemed in an area where it is not intended for use.
It’s only a little white lie. It’s still a lie.

Zip Code Couponing on In Good Cents Terms of Use as of March 6, 2012

There is a huge difference between you printing coupons from another zip code and me encouraging the thousands of readers who visit In Good Cents daily to do so.

I realize it’s probably not being “policed” right now. But, if, in the future, they do decide to enforce this term, you’re simply at risk of losing your account or privileges on a website. However, by publicly telling others to violate any website’s Terms of Use, I could potentially be opening the door to a law suit.

For that reason, and because I’ve built relationships with many of the coupon sites and manufacturers and want to honor those relationships by respecting their decisions, I do not share zip codes on In Good Cents. And, to protect myself and my readers, I do delete, or edit any comments or posts sharing zip codes on In Good Cents’ outlets including Facebook.

My Personal Opinion

There are so many things in this world that horrible, but printing coupons from other zip codes doesn’t really make a bleep on my radar. If you choose to do so, I won’t judge. I really don’t care at all. I think it’s a personal decision. One you should make, based on your opinion of this debate. I’ve heard all sides and they all have great points.

However, in case you were wondering, I do practice what I preach. Many readers have looked over my shoulder to check out my coupons when I’m at a grocery store. I don’t mind, but I want to avoid the awkwardness of being seen with these types of coupons. Especially since I don’t share zip codes on In Good Cents.

For that reason, I do tend to be a bit strict on myself when it comes to couponing ethics and always pick the road that appears safest (though I do make mistakes, since I’m only human). And, to be completely honest, there are so many deals available, missing the few coupons not available in my area does not hurt me or my family (or our budget) at all.

What are your thoughts on zip code couponing? Is it unethical?

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