Puzzling out the upsell-o-meter


As I noted before, many grocery stores in the United States have a printer next to the cash register which prints out coupons customized to your purchases. Here's a purchase and the accompanying coupon. What is the story behind this pairing?

Purchased: Diapers for newborn baby.
Coupon: Save 75 cents on ice cream.

Bonus chatter: While waiting in line, I read the warning label on the diapers. It went on for quite a bit, but one part triggered my "I wonder what lawsuit led to this warning" sensor: "Like most articles of clothing, XYZ brand diapers will burn if exposed to flame." Did somebody say, "Oh no, there's a fire, what will I do? I know, I'll smother the fire with my baby's diapered bottom!"

Comments (21)
  1. No One says:

    I think there's an old adage that people who buy diapers buy ice cream and beer.  The presumption behind it, I think, is that those with babies need comfort food and drink to handle the stress.

  2. Chris B says:

    I took an e-commerce class in college, and one of the topics discussed was coupon generation through data mining.  One of the more surprising correlations was that late in the evening, feminine hygiene products and six packs of beer were often purchased together.  If I remember correctly, the purchasers were generally male and the correlation was attributed to women asking their husbands to run the errand and the husband feeling the need to get something for himself while at the store to display his manliness.

    I wouldn't be surprised if there were a similar correlation related to using ice cream to relieve the stress of having a new born baby.

  3. pc says:

    One warning I was amused by on diapers was “CAUTION: These diapers, like almost any article of clothing including cloth diapers, will burn if exposed to flame. For your child's safety, always keep the child away from any source of flame.”

    Apparently, people wouldn't know to keep their baby away from fire otherwise. Or something…

  4. Vilx- says:

    It's probably one of those laws that says something like "every non-food product that is flammable must have it stated so on the package" – even when it's absurd to write (like fuels or matches or diapers or something).

  5. Pavel says:

    I recently ordered some condoms from soap.com. They arrived in a box, with a coupon for baby formula inside.

    Now I'm afraid to use those condoms.

  6. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I've noticed that when I buy N of certain items, I always get a coupon to save $Y if I buy N+1 of that item on my next visit.  Then if I do come back and buy N+1, I'll get another coupon for N+2 items etc.  The amount saved per item is always the same ratio.

    The same thing often happens with the "save 10% off a purchase of $80 or more" coupons — if I spend $X, I'll get a coupon to save 10% off a purchase of the next multiple of $10 above $X.

  7. Brian says:

    Why just this morning I picked up a tub of reduced fat chive n onion cream cheese – and got a coupon for packs of hot sausage.

    I just figured they look at things I've bought before, but not in a while – and try to get me buying them again.  It would be fascinating to work on one of these systems and imagine all the trends and mining they can do.

  8. Scott says:

    There was an article I read several years ago about how the inner contents of baby diapers was actually a great fire retardant.  However, that probably doesn't apply to the outer layer of material.

  9. Tom says:

    Those flame warnings come from a sad source.  In the days where lots of homes were heated by electric radiators lots of kids got hurt by their PJs burning into flame.  Sadly we now ingest lots of flame retardant that is shed by the clothing it is treated with.  I'm not sure what is worse.

  10. anonymous says:

    If you pay with a credit card, or use a store membership card then the coupons may be based on past purchases.  

  11. Ted says:

    They're called Catalina Coupons.  A google search will fine plenty of info about them.

  12. Leo says:

    My personal probably-not-true-but-wouldn't-surprise-me conspiracy theory is that the really crazy warnings are actually put there at the behest of marketing, not legal; the idea being that such warnings would ensure that the warning is noticed and discussed in the context of the product, thus increasing brand awareness.

  13. Luke says:

    I wouldn't use them for fire … but they are amazing if you have a water leak.  We had some plumbing problems that led to a lot of water flooding into our bathroom.  We also had one of those big boxes of something like 100 diapers.  The amount they soaked up was just incredible.

  14. jader3rd says:

    When I was working at an unnamed large retailer, one of the "facts" I picked up was that same store sales of both beer and diapers go up, if they are placed next to each other.

  15. steveg says:

    A well-used diaper would be my preferred method of attacking a fire. I'm not sure what the smell would be like, though. I have a garbage bin full of well-used nappies if anyone wants to find out…

  16. cheong00 says:

    @Pavel: Reading your comment, I feel the need for a LOL button.

  17. PavelS says:

    I guess that important part is "…newborn baby". It seems that you are going to celebrate the birth of a baby in a very near future and that you definitely need an ice cream for that celebration.

  18. lefty says:

    > lots of kids got hurt by their PJs burning into flame.  Sadly we now ingest lots of flame retardant that is shed by the clothing it is treated with.  I'm not sure what is worse. <<

    I'd vote for my clothes being on fire being the worse of the two.  I really hate that.

  19. Joe says:

    Ah, diapers. When my youngest was born, the diapers were terrible. They left bits of goo everywhere. When they came out with the improved type, I grabbed one, went to the kitchen sink and started pouring measured cups of water in it. It was quite stunning how much it held (and my wife thought I was nuts.)

  20. IK says:

    Malls are starting to use mobile phone signals to anonomously track shopping habits. money.cnn.com/…/index.htm

  21. The occasional coupon offer here tends to have an obvious reason. I often buy catfood; if I haven't bought any for a while, I tend to get a coupon for the dried food I usually buy. For laundry detergent, I sometimes get coupons for the store's own-brand rival, occasionally for my usual brand. Thinking about it, I suspect I'm benefitting in an unexpected way from my habit of alternating between two rival supermarket chains, so one of them keeps trying to lure me back with coupons (the other doesn't generally go in for coupons, but has slightly lower regular prices anyway).

    No doubt the diaper warning is just intended to make you extra careful about keeping the kid away from flames, since market research shows most parents prefer their offspring raw. The equivalent warning I've seen on my own garments tends to be a little simpler: "keep away from fire".

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