My newspaper, and I suppose yours too, often contains an advertising supplement for JCPenney announcing a sale. The ad includes - very prominently - discount coupons. For instance, for the 13 and 14 June 2008 sale, they included 5 3/8-inch x 3 3/8 inch coupons offering $10 off any single purchase of $50 or more or $15 off any single purchase of $75 or more. This sounds really great. Until you read the fine print. These coupons can be used for anything you want EXCEPT purchases of Value Right, cosmetics & fragrances, cookware, cutlery and gadgets, furniture & mattresses, lingerie "2 or more" prices, personal care & fitness products, small appliances & electronics, Clarks, Easy Spirit, Hunter Douglas, Levi's, Webkinz, Outlet Stores, services, salon services & contracts, gift cards/e-mail gift cards, prior purchases, and the following additional purchases: JCPenney custom fit clothing, Jodee Catalogs, combo prices/"2 or more" prices, fine china, floor care, house wares, infant (bedding/furniture/wheeled goods/accessories), musical instruments, pet items, pools, scooters, sporting goods, toys, video games, Grand Patricians, Oreck and Teleflora. It depends on how you count, but this looks like somewhere near 35 types of items for which the coupons will be worthless when you get to the check out counter.

So if we just cut out the coupons and go shopping, unless we read the fine print, what happens when we present our coupon at check out? After spending all that time looking for things that we need, most of us aren't going to say "Well, just put the things that the coupons are worthless for back on the shelves." We'll just moan and pay full price. This may sound like a scam or some sort of "bait and switch" technique. But I guess it isn't because we should have read the fine print. Maybe it would be easier to go shopping somewhere where they don't expect you to take your magnifying glass with you.

I've written to JCPenney about this practice. To read their first response you can click here.