There is an episode of The Office where Michael gives a business five "10% off" coupons and forgets to write "Coupons cannot be combined." In the episode, the business claims they can use the coupons for 50% off.

But that got me thinking, even if you forgot to write "Coupons cannot be combined," is there an argument that the coupons would have to be used sequentially rather than stacking them? In other words, instead of saying the discount is 10+10+10+10+10=50%, could you argue that the end price should actually be 90% X 90% X 90% X 90% X 90% = 59%, for a discount of 41%?

Can you "stack" coupons as in the episode, or do they have to be applied one at a time?


Would Multiple Coupons Stack or Apply Sequentially? Can you "stack" coupons as in the episode, or do they have to be applied one at a time?

It all depends on the terms and conditions of the [provider's] offer. Absent a contractual language that addresses the issue unequivocally, the controversy would depend on the competing criteria of doctrine of contra proferentem and usage of trade. The former favors the customer, whereas the latter favors the provider.

The lack of disclaimers such as "Coupons cannot be combined" triggers the doctrine of contra proferentem, whereby the customer is entitled to combine/use multiple coupons in a way that is most lucrative to him.

To overcome the doctrine of contra proferentem, the provider would need to prove that its position constitutes "usage [of trade] having such regularity of observance [...] as to justify an expectation that it will be observed with respect to a particular agreement", such usage "establishing a common basis of understanding for interpreting their expressions and other conduct". See Restatement (Second) of Contracts at § 222-223.

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"10% off" would be taken to mean "... from the original price" unless otherwise specified, even to someone well aware of geometric growth.

Given that there are a number of loyalty saver schemes that stack percentage discounts additively, and that schemes disallowing stacked discounts make this clear, a reasonable person would expect that in the absence of such specification, they can stack the discounts as described in the question.

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  • "This answers seems self contradictory - if it means 10% off the original price there is no stacking since there is only one original price. – George White Mar 6 at 20:39
  • Yes, there is only one original price, and taking 10% off that original price ten times would remove all of it. – Nij Mar 6 at 20:42
  • The way I see it, any procedure (doing it "ten times", as you say) would be sequential and after the first 10% is taken off, the result is no longer the original price so the second set is meaningless. – George White Mar 6 at 20:52
  • A discount is a reduction applied to the original price based on that price, whether done as 30 individual percents or a single thirty-percent chop, the result is the same, and that is what any reasonable person would expect. – Nij Mar 6 at 20:55
  • Put another way, if the coupons were instead $5 off something that always costs $50, are you saying it's impossible to use more than one at a time, because the first coupon has reduced the price to only $45.? – Nij Mar 6 at 21:00

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