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Monday, September 25, 2023

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Bed Bath & Beyond shoppers are rushing to use all these coupons

For many shoppers, Bed Bath & Beyond’s bankruptcy filing on Sunday was a call to action.

Customers — both loyal and churned — received an email from the home furnishings retailer around 8 a.m. telling them it had decided to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Its 360 Bed Bath & Beyond stores will close soon, as will its 120 Buy Buy Baby stores.

Shoppers have until Wednesday to use their coupons. Across the country, they collected the ubiquitous blue slips offering 20 percent off, stuffed them into pouches and plastic bags, and headed to the nearest Bed Bath & Beyond.

Speaking at a store in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood on Monday, Sylvia Ward, a Bed Bath & Beyond fanatic who said she was from the Bronx, said news of the closing had “completely devastated” her. Then she learns that she only has a few days to use the coupon.

“I have to run here today!” she said.

Ms. Ward said she brought about seven coupons that could be used on items like two Simplehuman soap dispensers, a kitchen timer and about 14 packs of Clorox wipes, saving her an estimated $30.

Opened in 1971, Bed Bath & Beyond has a unique cultural cachet among mass retailers. It served as a recurring storyline in Comedy Central’s “Big City”; a plot device in Adam Sandler’s 2006 film “Click”; and a topic of celebrity demonstrations of their relevance on late-night shows. Facebook groups have been formed so that people can exchange coupons for retailers.

For decades, these coupons have reliably appeared in millions of mailboxes — and more recently, email inboxes — offering discounts on household items like kitchen utensils, plush pillows and wooden coat hangers. People give them as gifts to new homeowners and college students, keep them in kitchen junk drawers and car glove boxes. At least one customer used them as calling cards, wrote their phone number on the back of the coupons, and handed them to other customers who found them attractive.

On Sunday, a steady stream of customers flowed through the Bed Bath & Beyond store in Chelsea. People walking around looking at towel warmers and big pillows. While some asked employees in blue aprons where they could find certain products, they also took the time to ask employees how they felt about closing the location.

Bobbi Kimberly is one of those customers. News of the chain’s bankruptcy was the impetus she needed to finally use the coupons she’d been holding onto and visit the store again before it closed.

“It’s like you lose a partner because it’s dependable,” says yoga instructor Ms. Kimberly. She said she would miss shopping, which kept her active and social.

Loyal Bed Bath & Beyond customers turned to social media after hearing news of the bankruptcy. The company name became a trending topic on Twitter. People shared odes to the retailer, posted TikTok videos of them walking into stores, and reminded their friends and family through their Facebook status that the chain was closed. A Reddit thread about Bed Bath & Beyond became the most popular meme during the pandemic, with people talking about its downfall.

Some shoppers handed unused coupons to other customers in the store and texted friends and family, encouraging them to use their coupons before it was too late.

For Bed Bath & Beyond, the outpouring of support came too late. Despite an early boost in the pandemic, sales soon began to plummet as quarantined Americans bought items to decorate their homes. The retailer’s supply chain is strained, operating costs are rising and suppliers have stopped shipping inventory over concerns about paying on time.

Shoppers at Bed Bath & Beyond stores have seen shelves thinned in recent months. The chain has been cutting hundreds of jobs and closing stores to survive. In its bankruptcy filing, it said “the past 12 months have undoubtedly been the most difficult and tumultuous in the storied history of Bed Bath & Beyond.”

Jean Massaro showed up at the Bed Bath & Beyond store in Yonkers on Monday morning with her coupons. She says she doesn’t shop online and ignores discounts retailers email to her in favor of tangible discounts she has, some gleaned from People magazine.

“I really, really like this store,” Ms. Massaro said. “I’m devastated, as are a lot of other people.”

But it’s been years since Bed Bath & Beyond peaked. In 2020, the company said it would stop sending coupons to shoppers after investors questioned whether that would hurt the company’s profit margins. Shoppers held back, a decision that appears to be one of a series of ways chains are stripping customers of their favorite shopping experiences.

“I used to come here a lot,” David Salidor said Monday, as he walked by a Manhattan location with some coupons. “It’s because they have a lot of stuff that the stores don’t have.”

He added: “I’m sorry to see it go away. But these are weird times, weird times.”

On Monday, some store visitors were disappointed they didn’t see eye-popping sales. The deep discount feature of the liquidation sale won’t kick in until Wednesday — once Bed Bath & Beyond stops accepting coupons. The company said it expects customers to be able to use the gift cards until May 8.

For shoppers with baby and wedding registries, the company said it will work with other platforms to transfer their data. Some Bed Bath & Beyond customers said they may go to retailers such as TJ Maxx, Kohl’s and Amazon to fill in the gaps.

Thea Derecola, a hairstylist and educator in Chelsea, arrived at the store with a bag of coupons and used them to buy two pillows for 20 percent off. Without the coupon, she said, she thought the pillows would have sold for less on Amazon.

Her janitor used to save Bed Bath & Beyond coupons for her, and Ms. Derecola, a longtime shopper who used to work across the street, said she visited the store weekly.

Daniel Duque, a retired teacher in Brooklyn Heights, said he hoped this wasn’t the real end for Bed Bath & Beyond, which expects all of its locations to close by June 30.

“I’m still waiting for a miracle,” he said. He’s shopped at the store for years, but not so much since moving to Brooklyn.

Feelings of nostalgia are common when retailers go out of business. It’s similar to how shoppers reacted when Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy, said Joanie Demer, co-founder of Krazy Coupon Lady, an online community that shares discounting tips and deals.

“All of a sudden, brands are so altruistic,” Ms. Demer said. “It’s like, okay, but you’re not shopping there. You’ve been shopping on Amazon like the rest of us.”

Atlanta entrepreneur Chelsea Gordon, who owns Cooking Code, didn’t learn of Bed Bath & Beyond’s bankruptcy until Sunday night. She spends her days preparing meals with kitchen appliances like a juicer she bought from a retailer.

She is a regular. Last year, she used Bed Bath & Beyond for her home registry and Buy Buy Baby for her baby shower gift registry.

Upon learning that she only had a few days to use her coupon, Ms. Gordon planned to head to a nearby store on Monday morning immediately after her Pilates class. She said she also wanted to make sure her mother heard the news, as they often texted about the Bed Bath & Beyond coupon.

“That coupon, let’s talk about it,” Ms. Gordon said with a sigh.

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