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This Coupon Seriously Does Not Compute

, , , , , , , , , | Working | October 22, 2021

I was finishing up running errands; the last thing on my to-do list was to pick up groceries, including pet food. My husband and I buy a particular brand of dog food that, while high quality, is fairly expensive (~$50 a bag), so when I see that a “Buy Two Bags, Get A Third Free” sale is going on, I jump on it. I put three of the thirty-pound bags in my cart, grab the coupon, and finish my shopping before heading to the register.

The cashier sees all my dog food.

Cashier #1: “Got a lot of dogs?”

Me: “Nope, just one big one! But y’all have a sale going on that’s almost too good to be true, so I jumped on it.”

I hand over the coupon and we chat a little about our dogs as she rings me up, but when she goes to scan the coupon, her computer shows an error.

Cashier #1: “Huh. It’s saying this coupon is invalid.”

Me: “That’s odd. Is it expired?”

Cashier #1: “No, it doesn’t look like it’s expired. Where did you get it? If it was from another location, then it might be store specific.”

Me: “No, I got it off of one of the coupon rings in the dog food aisle just a couple of minutes ago. There’s a whole stack of them there. I could go grab another one, if you think that would help?”

Cashier #1: “Here, let me call a manager real quick. Do you mind waiting a minute?”

Me: “Sure, I’ve got nothing else to do today.”

The cashier calls a manager, who comes over, and she explains the situation. He checks the coupon, and then tries to override the error, only for the computer to completely shut down.

Cashier #1: “What just happened?”

Manager #1: “I’m… not sure. Hang on, let me try this again.”

He sends the cashier to go get another coupon while he gets the computer running again. They both verify that the coupons aren’t expired or misprinted, and that I’ve brought the correct products to the register, and while they’re doing that, another cashier comes over to see what’s going on.

By now, the computer has rebooted and the two cashiers are unbagging, rescanning, and rebagging my items, which I then pay for, agreeing to purchase the dog food separately just in case. And thank goodness for that, because once everything else is paid for and in my cart, we scan the dog food again, the coupon again, and the computer shuts down for a second time.

We’re all confused, as there seems to be no reason for the coupon to be causing such problems. The first manager has called for a second, higher-ranking manager and two more employees have come over to see what’s going on. The lane has been closed so no one is stuck waiting in line behind me, and there are now seven people, including me, standing around this register.

I’m chatting with them all, trying to reassure them I’m neither upset nor in a hurry — though I am starting to get a little worried about the ice cream in my cart — as clearly, they’re all pretty flummoxed and apologetic. For a third time, the computer shuts down trying to process this coupon, and after the higher-ranking manager calls the highest-ranking employee in the store, we get an explanation… sort of.

Manager #2: “As far as we can tell, there’s a limited amount you can save on any given item with a coupon. For an item that costs [dog food amount], you’ll only be able to save up to $10, and this coupon saves you $40, so the computer won’t process it.”

Me: “Okay, I guess that makes sense. But… doesn’t the computer make the coupons?”

Cashier #1: *Laughing a little* “Yes, it does, so we’re not sure why it printed these if it won’t even process them.”

Manager #1: “It says that, to override the error, it requires a Z-level employee to authorize it, which is something I’ve never actually heard of before.”

Manager #2: “That is literally higher than anyone who works at this store. That’s like the CEO of [Store].”

Cashier #2: “Basically, it’s equating this coupon to trying to sell alcohol before noon on a Sunday.”

That is illegal where I live.

Cashier #2: “Honestly, even if we had a Z-level employee here, the computer still probably wouldn’t allow it.”

By now, we’re all laughing at the absurdity of the situation — that the computer is refusing to accept a coupon it generated unless an employee with an impossible level of authority overrides the system.

Me: “Wow, I guess this sale actually was too good to be true! Well, in that case, I’m going to have to put two of the bags back and just stick to buying the one.”

Cashier #1: “I’m really sorry about that, ma’am. I’ve never seen something like this happen before.”

Me: “No worries! I appreciate you guys trying to get the thing to work for me. Sorry for taking up so much of y’all’s time!”

Cashier #1: “It’s all right. Thank you for being so patient.”

Two of the other employees took the bags back for me while the rest returned to their jobs. Ultimately, they removed the coupons from the shelf to avoid any future issues and I paid for my one bag of dog food before heading to my car with my groceries. All in all, it took almost forty-five minutes from the moment I got in line to the moment I walked out to my car.

Once home, I texted the story to a friend of mine who works for the same grocery store chain but at a different location, and she, too, had never heard of a “Z-level” employee before. Though my ice cream was pretty melted when I got home, I like to think I at least left the employees with a rare, wholesome retail story.

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