Publix is making a big bet that paper grocery coupons aren't going away anytime soon.
The Southeast's dominant grocery company has quietly launched an online system called Coupon Helper that helps shoppers with one of the thorniest parts of couponing -- matching deals like BOGO sales with printed coupons from the Sunday papers.
When such deals work, shoppers can often cut the cost of a given item by 75 percent or more. But if shoppers can't find a "matchup," they can end up sorting through weeks of coupons, wondering if they really did see that coupon for 50 cents of cat food, or $1 off detergent.
"We're always looking for ways to help our customers find the greatest value and savings in their shopping experience," said Publix spokesman Brian West. "Coupon Helper is another way for us to demonstrate just how important it is to share that information."
The system works this way:
Shoppers log onto Publix.com/coupons, go to the "Coupon Helper" section and pick their local store. That helps the software pick which RedPlumb and SmartSource circular appeared in their area with products on sale at Publix, and match discounts listed in the weekly Publix flier. Shoppers then scan through deals, check boxes next to each item they might use, and print a list for reference when they flip through the coupon fliers.
For instance, 9Lives Cat Food was on sale for $8.99 in a Publix flier, and the system flagged a $1 off coupon in the June 2 RedPlumb circular, leading to a savings of $2.50. In another deal, Nabisco Wheat Thins are BOGO (buy one get one free), and the system flagged a 75-cents off coupon in the May 19 SmartSource, leading to a savings of $5.24 on two boxes.
Another part of the Coupon Helper system lists every item in both RedPlumb and SmartSource, and can organize them by category, like "pet care" or "baby needs."
Such a system helps shoppers in another way. There are two main strategy camps for systematic couponers. One strategy has couponers clip every single coupon and organize them in case the item ever goes on sale. Another strategy has couponers save fliers intact and store them by date, and then when an item goes on sale (like a BOGO deal), shoppers use online sites like SouthernSavers.com that show what date and page had a coupon for that item.
Both systems work because manufacturer coupons often have expiration dates weeks or months in the future, but the second method is often an easier first step for shoppers looking to save money.
The overall Publix coupon system remains in development, West said, and there are several areas where the system can expand. For instance, there is no link yet to coupons on a manufacturer's own Web site or Facebook page - both common ways that food companies build brand loyalty. And the Coupon Helper system isn't linked to Publix's own MyList system that lets shoppers build a grocery list online before going to the store.
In a parallel project, Publix is pushing further into the digital coupon world with a system that lets shoppers virtually clip coupons online and redeem them at the cash register with their phone number or credit card number. For now, the digital coupon system, the MyList system and the Coupon Helper system remain three separate projects and shoppers cannot synch them together.
"However," West said. "We will continue to look for ways to enhance this offering."