Today may be the last time that shoppers can double the value of a manufacturer's coupon at Ralphs supermarkets for more than 50 cents.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles-based chain is expected to eliminate bonus valuations on coupons for $1 or more and will only double the value of coupons for 50 cents or less.
The supermarket chain has distributed memos to stores detailing the new policy, and Ralphs spokesman Terry O'Neil confirmed Monday that the cutback on the double-coupon promotion would be announced today.
"We continually evaluate the different promotions and customer savings promotions we offer in our stores, and a decision was made to slightly change the policy," O'Neil said. "The vast majority of coupons used in our stores are valued at 50 cents and below anyway."
O'Neil declined to discuss further details for "competitive reasons."
Currently, shoppers can receive a maximum of $1 extra when redeeming manufacturers' coupons for $1 or more. However, under the new policy that is expected to take effect Wednesday, those coupons will be accepted only at face value.
Under the new policy, coupons worth 25 cents will still be worth an extra quarter, for a total savings of 50 cents. And a 50-cent coupon will be doubled for a net savings of a dollar.
But the doubling stops there. Any coupons for more than 50 cents but less than $1 will only increase to $1.
In 2006 the Vons supermarket chain, owned by Safeway Inc., did away with its double-coupon redemptions, citing decreased usage as the main reason for the change in policy. At the time, Kroger Co.'s Ralphs was one of the few major supermarkets in Southern California to continue offering double-coupon promotions to its customers.
Vons has since reinstated a policy offering double-coupon redemptions; however, it only doubles up to $1.
The new Ralphs policy took effect in its San Diego stores May 7.
The curtailment of double-coupon redemptions comes at a time when many consumers are grappling to keep up with rising food costs because of inflation. Clipping coupons out of the Sunday paper is just one way of fighting increasing prices.
"We share our customers' concern about food prices," O'Neil said. "We do everything we can to keep our prices competitive and affordable. This benefit is still more generous than many of our competitors' offers."
Teri Gault, chief executive of Santa Clarita-based website TheGroceryGame.com, believes that consumers can still save on groceries if they play their coupons right. Her website, created in 2000, helps shoppers strategize according to grocery store pricing and coupon publication dates.
"You just need to know how to play the game," Gault said. "Your coupons are like your playing cards, and you need to know when to stockpile."
Others, however, remain pessimistic about the change. Vladimir Panenko of Sherman Oaks runs the website LABestCoupons.com, which helps guide consumers to the best coupons in the Los Angeles region.
"I don't think it's good at all for poor people and even middle-class people," Panenko said. "It's a sign how bad the economy really is."