Why your coupons won’t scan at Dominick’s (and Walmart, and…)

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You all have sent in a lot of questions lately about coupons that won’t scan at various stores, especially Dominick’s and Walmart. Here’s the deal: Coupons are transitioning to a new barcode called the GS1 databar. This can carry much more information than the older-style barcodes, including things like start date (which is why some of you found that when you bought the early edition of the 2/19 Tribune, the Tylenol Precise coupon didn’t work at Jewel yesterday — it wasn’t coded to turn on til 2/19!).

Older POS systems (cash registers) won’t recognize the new-style GS1 barcodes; they just won’t scan.

So, this is why you’ve seen stores transitioning to new-style registers. Jewel, for instance, is currently in process, which is why at some stores the same coupon will scan at the regular lanes but not self-checkouts. However, a lot of stores haven’t yet done this yet, so just physically cannot scan the new barcodes.

Manufacturers are changing now

If you look at some of your manufacturer coupons, some have both barcodes — the older barcode on the left, and the new-style barcode on the right. Well, some manufacturers are choosing only to print the new barcodes on their coupons, and they no longer have the older barcode for stores to scan. Look at the Tylenol Precise coupon above — see how it only has one barcode, and it doesn’t have the numbers under it like the older longer barcodes?


Stores were supposed to change over by June 2011. Well, that date came and went… The newer GS1 databar is intended to reduce coupon misredemption, and manufacturers are very anxious to see it rolled out. So, they’re just going ahead and doing it, apparently on the assumption that stores will now have to get on the ball.

So what’s the problem?

Some stores have coupon policies that prohibit them from taking coupons that won’t scan at the registers. For instance:

  • Dominick’s — “15. Internet printed coupons must be capable of scanning at checkout.” Well, what happens when you print a coupon off the Internet that only has the new GS1 barcode and go to a Dominick’s that hasn’t updated its registers? Yup, you guessed it, now your coupons are not scanning at Dominick’s. This isn’t your fault, and there is nothing illegitimate about the coupon itself — however, Dominick’s that strictly adhere to their coupon policy won’t take them. This will be an issue until they update their registers.
  • Walmart — “Must have a scannable bar code.” Well, at Walmarts that haven’t updated their registers, the barcode isn’t scannable.

Some stores will punch in the coupons manually. Others will just hand them back to you, especially if they are Internet printables.

So what can you do?

Not much — the coupons just will not scan until stores update their systems. You can complain both to your store and to the manufacturer about legitimate coupons that you are unable to use, but as things currently stand and as the policies are worded, that’s what’s going on.