EBay UK has moved to significantly restrict the sale of money-off next purchase coupons and similar manufacturer vouchers.

That’s a major victory for UK fmcg brand owners, for the marketing industry as a whole, for couponing in particular and for the Institute of Promotional Marketing, which has been negotiating with eBay on behalf of its members for five years now.

But it’s also great news for the general public. According to figures from coupon clearing specialist Valassis, shoppers saved £2.3bn in 2012 by using money-off coupons, and eBay’s actions have helped to make sure they will continue to save money.

Consumers benefit for two key reason: the eBay changes will reduce the risk of their buying fake coupons and they also mean ordinary shoppers will be able to redeem the legitimate coupons they have. And yes, it also means a very small number of people won’t be able to use wads of coupons and clear the shelves of the relevant products before anyone else has a look in.

” Shoppers saved £2.3bn in 2012 by using money-off coupons”

As a member of the IPM’s Coupon Council, I’ve been directly involved in the negotiations with eBay, and they’ve gone further than we ever imagined with both the new policies and also with the guidelines that potential coupon sellers see when they start listing something.

Brand owners have traditionally used money-off next coupons for a range of reasons: to support a new product to encourage brand trial and switching to reward loyalty to drive people in store and to encourage shoppers to buy more.

More recently, they have also been used, in larger denominations, as prizes in competitions and as ways of saying ‘sorry’ to people who have had a problem with a product they’ve bought.

But the unrestricted sale of coupons - both genuine and fake - has threatened couponing. Coupons aren’t usually meant to be transferable and most make that clear in the terms and conditions. The idea is that they get distributed - fairly - to as many shoppers as possible, not hoarded by a small number or sold for profit. We also have to accept that some of the coupons been sold through eBay and other websites have not been worth the paper they are printed on.

The UK’s major retailers are now also taking steps in the right direction. Where previously some had been part of the problem, effectively allowing shoppers to use fistfuls of coupons as if they were cash whether or not the relevant product was in the trolley, and whether or not people were redeeming more coupons than they should have been allowed to, they are now beginning to instruct checkout staff to look more closely at the coupons.

Obviously, eBay’s policy changes won’t altogether stop coupon sales on the auction site, but they will massively reduce them. That doesn’t mean manufacturers should become complacent - they should always get expert advice on coupon design and wording.

Just because eBay has cracked down doesn’t mean coupons won’t be sold on other sites, or even in the pub.

Sam Maitland is a member of the Coupon Council of the IPM and an account director at marketing agency Live & Breathe