(CNN) — Bed Bath & Beyond coupon shoppers take note: If you have a stash of its big blue 20% off coupons in your drawer or in your inbox, better use them soon.
The struggling home goods retailer issued a dire prediction on Thursday, calling into doubt its ability to stay in business much longer and said it was exploring a path forward that includes filing for bankruptcy.
A bankruptcy filing, which reportedly could come in a matter of weeks, might spell the end of its iconic coupon programs, especially if the company pursues a bankruptcy process that involves liquidation rather than just restructuring.
“If Bed Bath & Beyond files for bankruptcy, the retailer might honor the 20% coupons for a 30-day period. After that, and especially if it starts closing stores and sets liquidation sales, creditors wouldn’t want to allow shoppers to tack on those 20% off coupons on top of 70% off liquidation prices,” said Burt Flickinger, retail expert and managing director of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group.
Other retailers have followed a similar game plan after bankruptcy and store closings.
Toys ‘R’ Us honored its gift cards, store credit and coupons for a 30-day period after it filed for bankruptcy in 2017, and subsequently liquidated its US business. The toy seller has since begun to attempt a comeback through a partnership with Macy’s, and opened its first post-bankruptcy store in 2019 under new ownership.
It’s not just creditors who might take issue with the store honoring the coupons on top of liquidation discounts. “For suppliers of name brands in particular, they wouldn’t want the deep discounting to negatively impact their brand image,” said Ali Besharat, associate professor of marketing and co-director of the Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center at the University of Denver’s Daniel’s College of Business.
Big Blue became a company icon
Bed Bath & Beyond introduced its oversized coupon for 20% off a single item three decades ago.
Over time, the oversized postcard-like mailer and digital coupon with an eye-popping purple-blue border and font blaring “20% off in-store or online” developed a cult following and became a successful marketing strategy to lure in repeat shoppers, said Flickinger.
The coupon became so synonymous with the home goods chain that it gained a nickname — “Big Blue,” according to a New York Times report. And then it grew into a pop culture reference as celebrities and late-night talk show hosts popped it into their on-air conversations, the report said.
Rumors swirled on various social platforms that Big Blue coupons never expire, even though the weekly coupon does feature an expiration date.
Then the pandemic hit and walloped the retail industry. With stores closed for months, and consumers rethinking their non-essential purchases, Bed Bath & Beyond sales and profit took a hit. In late 2020, the retailer said it was scaling back on its popular coupon program to boost its business.
Two years later, company executives called the move a ‘big mistake,’ admitting they had misjudged how many shoppers had come to embrace the regular cadence of the Big Blue coupons.
And now, Big Blue’s future could truly be in jeopardy. It depends on what comes next.
“Whether or not Bed Bath & Beyond loyalty programs would survive also depends, in part, on whether the company goes through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, known as restructuring, or Chapter 7 bankruptcy, that is, liquidation,” said Chandan Jha, associate professor of finance at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY.
“If it is the former, then there’s a very, very high chance that the reward programs will survive and the company will honor any existing rewards and coupons. After all, the company would not want to lose their customers and these loyalty programs or loyalty rewards are made to retain customers,” said Jha.
But if the company goes through a liquidation process, then whether or not these reward points and coupons would be honored is uncertain, he said.
“Since the company no longer exists, it is quite possible that the points would simply be useless. However, sometimes the reward points work differently and might survive even after the parent company dies,” he said. “In any case, if I was a customer holding reward points and coupons, and if the company would be going through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, then I would use it before they lose value.”