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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Decoding Bar Codes

I was going to write a post on the anatomy of a coupon (I will soon) but I've become distracted by TLC's Extreme Couponing. In case you've been living under a rock with those dudes in the Geico commercial you can read my post here.

In one of the first episodes of the show one of the "stars" seems to use coupons intended fro one item for another related item, I'm not going to go into the 5 Ws and H. If you want the story it's all over the Internet tubes, blogs, and even You Tube.

What I wanted to write about was the correct usage of coupons in general. You can go back and read my coupon etiquette post if you'd like but what I wanted to address here is the way one would figure out what items are covered my each coupon. There are 3 ways I'll mention.

First, most simple and what the majority of inexperienced couponers use is the "Look at the Pretty Picture Method". That's when a person looks at the item pictured on the coupon, jumps to a conclusion about it's possible usage, and buys only the item pictured even if the coupon's text doesn't limit you to a certain size or type. Manufacturers count on people using this method and so put pictures of the largest or newest of their products on the coupon.

Unfortunately many cashiers also use this method. If you're familiar with the second method of coupon deciphering you can use it to explain your coupon and get your intended deal.

The second method is called "Read the Frickin' Coupon" AKA RTFM (ah gaming terms, how I miss them). This method requires you o read not just the SAVE $2.00 but also the smaller text. Check for size restrictions, or lack thereof, and quantities needed to purchase.

An example of the merits of this method: You have a coupon which reads "$2.00 off your meat purchase when you buy Product X" You also have a coupon good for $1.00 off your purchase of Product X. If product X is pictured on both coupons a cashier might hesitate to allow you to use both and you'll need to sue method two to explain that one coupon goes toward Product X one coupon goes toward your meat purchase.

Side Note: It is always preferred that you calmly but firmly explain using method two rather than smacking the cashier. I know it's hard sometimes but try.

Now method Three. This method involves decoding the UPC and it's the controversial one. The UPC and the numbers underneath is tell what the coupons is for, how much to take off and how many should be purchased. The problem begins when people learn to decode the numbers and use this knowledge for evil as that Extreme Couponer is accused of having done.

I debated explaining this here and have decided that since the info is freely available if you know where to look I would go ahead with it. Hopefully you'll read the truth and make an intelligent decision about what you will and will not do. Sorta like Sex Ed. Teach the kid at home in a safe environment where you can share your values, or let them be misinformed out on the street. So here we go . . .

There are 12 numbers under the bar code of a coupon. The first number the Coupon NSC tells the scanner if it should double the coupon. 5 = double 9 = Do not double.

The next five numbers are the Company identifier. Each item of that brand will have the same code and this number matches on the coupon and the bar code of item itself.

The next three numbers are the value code, this code tells the register about size and type restrictions. A zero in this group of numbers is a wild card. If you ave a coupon that say "Save $1.00 on any of our products" you'll see three zeros in this group of numbers.

This is also the section of the code that can allow it to be used incorrectly. Some coupons intended for use of one product will sometimes work for another product in the same product family. People discover that a coupon intended for $2.00 off a more expensive product can be used for a cheaper product making it free or very cheap.

Just because it may work that way doesn't make it right. Some will tell you it's coupon fraud and illegal. I'm going to tell you that I think it's wrong, you shouldn't do it and many stores are updating their scanners not to fall for it anyway.

But one of the reasons I'm explaining this is checking this number can warn you that the coupon will beep at the register and allow you to be prepared to use Method Two with the cashier. If the number is 992, 001, or 000 then you can be pretty sure the coupon will beep and the cashier will have to input information into the register.

The next two numbers are the value code. This code tells the register how many you should have bought and how much to take off the total. Every combination from Buy 3 get $1.00 off to $0.50 off 1 to Buy one get one free is represented by a two digit code. If you'd like to see the chart listed what each code represents check here.

The last digit is a check sum and doesn't really matter much to humans. A secondary set of number sometimes follows, these included info for the stores and clearinghouses and don't really affect consumers. Occasionally this second set of numbers includes a 4 digit date code (MMYY) that gives the expiration date.

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