Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Coinstar: The Big Lie

I am sure that most readers have seen Coinstar machines at their supermarket. The way it works is pretty simple, you deposit your change and the machine counts up your coins. It then spits out a voucher which you can redeem at the cashier. Typically, Coinstar charges you about 8.9% for the coins counted. You can also choose a gift card and avoid a counting fee.

Coinstar has a slogan "Turn your coins into cash," which I consider to be a big lie. The phrase "coins to cash" always rubbed me the wrong way. I've never been a fan of Coinstar, and I refuse to pay them 8.9% to count up my coins. However, their marketing is very effective because they've somehow gotten people into thinking that coins are no longer acceptable legal tender.

Let's back up a moment and think about the language here. Aren't "coins" considered to be "cash" by definition? Since when are coins not acceptable as legal tender, for all debts public and private? I've had half a mind to bring in a big jar of coins to pay for my groceries just to protest the Coinstar machine. If they refuse my money, I could claim discrimination...

Gift cards are not cash either. On eBay, gift cards often sell for 10% less than face value. In any case, when you compare this "counting fee" versus the amount of interest that you can get at the bank, that is nearly 3 years worth of interest that you are losing out on.

If Coinstar wishes to be truthful, they ought to change their slogan to "turn your cash into a voucher or gift card that is worth less than you put in".