Back n the 80s I called myself a “refunder” just as often as I labeled myself a couponer.
From my work in progress:
For those of us who have been in this biz for any length of time, refunding will always be synonymous with couponing. According to David Vaczek and Richard Sale in an August 1998 Promo magazine article about advertising
promotions, refunds and premium offers have a long history as a promotional tactic, going back as far as the early 1880s, when Adolphus Busch, a beer salesman from St. Louis, used to park his beer wagon in front of a saloon to give out free samples. Refunds, unlike their coupon counterparts, offer a certain amount of money or a premium like a t-shirt, hat or stuffed toy sent to the buyer of the product in exchange for the consumer sending certain proofs of
purchase to the company. One hundred years after Bush’s knife give-away the vast amount of premium refund offers available would boggle the mind of any 1880’s salesman. By the 1980s it was easy for me to stock a Christmas gift cupboard with free crayons, balls, hats, t-shirts, towels and stuffed animals, not to mention all the cash back offers that could easily add up to almost $100 a month. A typical refund back then might simply request four UPC’s or ten
wrappers, of which the avid refunder would already have in their files, waiting for just such an offer. Before the advent of UPC codes, manufacturers might ask for a net weight statement for one offer and a boxtop for another so the savvy refunder saved the entire packages from the products they bought. Cash register tapes were rarely needed, except for some of the more lucrative offers like money back on a liquor purchase or car tires. Manufacturers counted on a
certain amount of “slippage” with these offers, using the special offer to motivate the customer to purchase the product, knowing that a good percentage of consumers would inevitably forget to send for the refund. Hard-core refunders, however, didn’t let anything slip by them. If it was free, they sent for it, even if it was a cat toy and they had no pets.
You could tell I was a refunder by our Christmas gifts:
Most of our Christmas gifts in those days were free premiums, and the majority of the kid’s t-shirts, toys and balls came from company-sponsored refund offers.
I had an entire room devoted to my hobby, and in the far left corner of this picture you can see some of the gift items I had set up for the benefit of a New York camera crew that interviewed me about refunding and couponing. Unfortunately, the edited version only included information about couponing, despite the fact that in the final version of the video I am shown filing a Tylenol box in a plastic bag. Viewers who were unfamiliar with refunding would wonder what a Tylenol box had to do with saving money with coupons.
I always involved my children in my hobby; collecting candy bar wrappers from trash receptacles in the park, walking the alleys for Pampers points, and cutting coupons. Once we were in the store, I often entrusted my children with the job of finding the product that matched the coupons, keeping them occupied while I scrutinized the shelves for more coupons, more refund forms and good deals I could combine my coupon savings with.