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A Good Deal, If You Can Get It

Dick’s Sporting Goods offered me up to 40 percent off everything in their new store. Well, not quite everything.

Last week, I received a flyer notifying me that a Dick’s Sporting Goods had just opened in my area. As a lure to get me in the door, the flyer also included a couple of coupons.

Nothing unusual there. We live in an age in which “couponing” is a verb and can be paired with the adjective “extreme.” Even for us non-extreme types, it’s a nice incentive to stop by the new location.

Ten dollars off a purchase of $25 or more is not a bad deal. Out of curiosity, I glanced at the fine print.

A coupon, it should be noted, was once a simple thing. One free glass of Coca-Cola. Fifteen cents off a can of Pine Sol. Five dollars off Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. Eventually, they evolved some oft-used disclaimers, such as “one coupon per customer,” or “cannot be combined with other offers.” That sort of legalese comes standard nowadays.

The first several lines of tiny type on this particular coupon were typical. Valid on in-store purchase only. Not redeemable for cash. I made my way through the block of text, which took up about two-thirds of the space that wasn’t barcode, and eventually hit a sentence that began with one small but ominous word: “excludes.”

The list of ineligible merchandise began with “firearms and ammunition.” Just as well. Once that was out of the way, the next target was a trio of brands: Shimano, St. Croix and J. Loomis, all of which produce fishing gear, among other equipment.

Fishermen might have been further disappointed to see all “fishing electronics” on the list. Golfers were out of luck, too: “Golf electronics” were also excluded. I’m not a golfer, but Google tells me this category includes range finders, electronic score cards and golf-specific GPS devices. Who knew there were golf-specific GPS devices? Do they provide turn-by-turn guidance to get from the eighth green to the ninth tee?

Also in the no-go zone were boat motors, both outboard and trolling. So was whatever Dick’s definition of “championship merchandise” entails.

My sympathy goes out to the baseball enthusiast. Ball gloves that cost $160 or more and bats $199 or more don’t count either.

Still, there were a lot of sporting goods left, and Dick’s are generally large stores. It wasn’t as if the coupon was worthless.

But then came the brands that were excluded in their entirety. In addition to the three fishing equipment producers mentioned above, coupon holders were warned to steer clear of Diamondback, Jansport, Under Armour, Polar, The North Face, Patagonia, Nike Pro Combat, LIVESTRONG, AF1 and Jordan, Brooks, Reebok (only the footwear), New Balance 574, Ugg, Merrell, Burton, Marmot, Spyder and Mountain Hardwear.

Oh, and also Columbia, Quiksilver, Roxy, Billabong, Volcom, EA Sports Active, Babolat, PING, FootJoy DryJoys Tour, ecco, SkyGolf, Cleveland, Odyssey, Cobra and TaylorMade.

And Titleist golf balls. And select new release Callaway golf clubs. Those golfers can’t get a break.

I suspect that what’s going on is, at least in part, a reaction to the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc. The Court found that it is not illegal per se for manufacturers to refuse to do business with a reseller who sells their products below a minimum resale price. (The history of resale price maintenance in the U.S. shows that the concept has been alternately embraced and rejected for quite some time.)

When they want to give their customers a good deal, stores such as Dick’s must work around the restrictions their suppliers establish. The idea is to attract customers, not blacklists and lawsuits.

Still, I was curious. Would the store arrange the items to which the coupon did apply into a section – or perhaps on top of a table – for easy browsing? Dick’s could have printed a pamphlet, similar to a bird-watching guide, for help spotting the merchandise that wasn’t excluded from the offer. Or perhaps the store managers could have organized the promotion like a scavenger hunt, to further the festival atmosphere of their grand opening.

I could have just used the other coupon that appeared in the flyer to get 200 bonus ScoreCard points on my first purchase. Of course, some additional exclusions may apply.

For more articles on financial, business, and other topics, view the Palisades Hudson newsletter, Sentinel, or subscribe to my daily opinion column, Current Commentary.

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