Nothing gets a couponer's blood pressure rising faster than the discussion topic of shelf-clearing. It's one thing couponers definitely have an opinion about. I am pro-shelf clearing. Yes, that's right, I am an unapologetic shelf-clearer.
Now I'll duck while you all hurl stuff at me.
I wasn't always pro-shelf clearing. I've been a couponer all of my adult life, but it was only five or six years ago that I got into 'supercouponing' which I define as getting multiple coupon inserts each week and building a stockpile. When I was first starting out, I was very anti-shelf clearing. One time a couponer on a discussion board posted something that resonated with me and changed my opinion. She said, "It's not my responsibility to make sure that there is product there for the next customer." So true! It's not my responsibility to keep a store's shelves stocked.
One of the main reasons I am now pro-shelf clearer is that I have come to realize that there are just too many variables. First of all, unless you encounter a shopper with a cart full of a product that you want, you don't know why the shelf is empty. One previous customer could have come and taken all 50 of those items, or, 50 previous customers could have come and each taken one. You don't know. Maybe that shelf has been sitting there empty of that product for weeks, due to manufacturer supply issues.
It's not just a grocery store phenomenon. I've been in Gymboree and The Children's Place for their super blowout clearance sales, and have run into other moms buying dozens and dozens of items, clearly with the intent to eBay it or resell it. Yes, I was disappointed that I did not get to take advantage of some of the deals but I can't be mad at a mom who is trying to make a few bucks. I should be mad at the store for not imposing limits.
Last week at my local grocery store they had diapers marked down 75% off. They had one box of a size I wanted, so I bought it. I also used a coupon so they were very cheap, any mom would have taken advantage of this deal. But didn't I shelf clear? In that same trip, I encountered a couple that was shopping for what appeared to be some type of cookout fundraiser. In the paper products aisle, they took all that was left of one variety of paper cups and paper plates. They did not appear to have any coupons, so I can assume that they were paying full price. But they shelf-cleared, didn't they?
Look, we've all been there. You know there's a super hot freebie deal coming and you excitedly rush to the store. It's a product you use and love, and it's either going to be free or maybe even a moneymaker! And you get to the shelf and it's empty. I've been there and felt that disappointment. I just don't think it's appropriate to be mad at other shoppers. Contact the department supervisor and tell them. I do this regularly and, for example, whenever my one grocery store does a promo on a certain kind of frozen veggie, they know I want dozens of them. I just chatted with the frozen department manager in the aisle one day, explained to him why this was a super-hot item when he ran these promos and encouraged him to order more when they are on sale. Ever since then, there has been ample supply. Use these as an opportunity to educate store personnel.
Anyone can justify shelf clearing. You can say you're donating it to charity, you lost your job, you are having money problems right now, it's for a fund raising effort, and you take in orphans and feed them or give it to the homeless. But it really doesn't matter, does it? After all, we don't know every person's story or why the shelf is empty in the first place. That being said, I think you can shelf clear and not be a jerk about it.
This week is the Season Premiere of Extreme Couponing and I don't know if you've seen the promo or not, but the first shopper they profile is an unapologetic shelf-clearer. And in my opinion, she's kind of a jerk about it. First of all, she admits that she buys items she doesn't need or use, because she hates throwing out an unused coupon. I've met women online who get free or cheap cat food and they don't even have a cat. I don't even know if I'd call that couponing; maybe they should apply for the other reality show (*cough cough* Hoarders *cough cough*). But even if I shopped in the same town as this woman I wouldn't be mad at her, I'd be mad at her stores. They know she's coming and should stock appropriately.
As long as the store has not imposed limits or restrictions, I'm free to purchase as many of an item as I wish. It does not matter if I'm paying with coupons, cash, check, credit card, WIC, food stamps, gift card or sand. It does not matter if I am going to eat it, hoard it, donate it, resell it, give it away, throw it away or set it on fire in my back yard. I've purchased it and I can do whatever I want with it.
Tell us: are you a shelf-clearer?
Admitted shelf-clearer and supercouponer Lisa Lightner writes the blog Smart Spending Spot. In addition to telling her readers about great deals and Smart Spending tips, she runs a regular feature called "On My Soapbox" to discuss hot topic items for couponers. You can follow her here, there or on Facebook. As one of the 2011 Deal Pros, you will find her in New York City next month at our Save Up event.