CHICAGO -- Target Corp., the mass merchandiser with about 1,750 stores nationwide, for months has been shortchanging its customers who use certain manufacturers' coupons by crediting them for a fraction of their face value.
Target is calling it a computer glitch. Avid coupon users are calling it an outrage.
"It's just a mess. It makes me not want to go there," said Caroline Jaworski of Harwood Heights, Ill. On Wednesday morning, she said, her $1.50 coupon for two packs of feminine-hygiene products was reduced by the register to $1.02 at the Target store in Norridge, Ill.
"You really have to watch the registers, and for people who don't, they don't know they're getting ripped off," Jaworski said. "I think this is a serious issue that a lot of people aren't aware of."
Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com and author of two books on couponing, said shoppers are supposed to get discounted the full amount for multiple-item coupons. "I've never heard of this happening at any supermarket," she said.
Target says it has been aware of the problem since August.
A spokeswoman for the Minneapolis-based retailer said Wednesday she had no information on why the problem was happening or why it hasn't yet been resolved.
"We are aware that some coupons are not scanning for the full amounts," Target spokeswoman Erika Svingen said. "We are aware of the issue and are diligently working on a fix for that and will implement it as soon as possible."
Coupon use soared during the Great Recession. Some 3.3 billion coupons were redeemed in 2009, a 27 percent increase from the year before, according to coupon research site CouponInfoNow.com. What may be most disconcerting to many Target shoppers is that the coupon problem has been ongoing since at least midsummer.
"I don't understand how a national company knows there's an issue but hasn't done anything about it," Jaworski said.
Target has instructed cashiers to check coupons to ensure customers are getting the full value, Svingen said.
"We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused our guests," she said. "Anyone who does not receive the full coupon amount at the register can bring their receipt to guest services for a refund of the difference."
Shoppers complained primarily about coupons that require the purchase of multiple items. Multiple-item coupons make up a quarter of all coupons, according to Inmar Inc., which helps retailers and manufacturers manage coupons.
The glitch appears to stem from a common practice among retailers. Stores won't allow a coupon to reduce the price of an item to less than zero. Otherwise, it would have to pay the customer cash for buying the item. Free is the best they will do, which is also Target's stated policy.