Coupon Web Sites: Never Pay Full Price Again?
by Melissa Korn
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
These days, it seems there’s no sense buying something unless you can get at a steep discount. That goes for big-ticket items like houses and cars, down to such smaller purchases as vacation packages, electronics and clothes.
According to research group comScore Inc., 27 million Americans visited coupon sites in October, up 33% from a year earlier. And from last January to September, the number of coupon-related Web searches doubled. So it’s clear more of us are hunting for deals.
Scores of Web sites aggregate coupons and promotional codes that help people shop online without ever having to pay full price. Some, like Coupons.com, are geared toward grocery and drug store staples. (Today, that site is featuring $1 off Velveeta cheese and $2 off Perdue Frozen Fully Cooked Chicken on its home page.)
But others, like CouponCabin.com and RetailMeNot.com, offer a wider array of discounts for popular retailers, usable in-store and online. CouponCabin claims to have more than 100,000 discounts from more than 20,000 merchants.
While some sites require subscriptions to get at the good stuff, most offer coupons for free. The sites make money by selling ad space or offering “featured discount” status to stores for a set fee.
Here’s how it works: I happen to be in the market for a new comforter, as mine was mauled by a pair of scissors (an arts and crafts project gone bad). At CouponCabin.com, I found a discount code for $15 off any order over $75 at Macy’s, which is having its own sale. I click the coupon link, which takes me to Macy’s site, find the item I want, enter the code upon checkout, and, voila — a new comforter for Melissa. CouponCabin.com even shows a screen shot of where to enter the promotional code on a store’s Web site.
Most coupon sites allow you to sort discounts by retailer, so if my comforter didn’t qualify for the minimum dollar amount of one Macy’s coupon, I could always check to see if it made the cut for another.
Coupon sites vary in breadth of offerings, but also in practicality. Users should scour these sites after picking out a specific item on a store’s Web site or when they want a certain item (say, a just-released DVD) but don’t care where they buy it. But if you’re tempted to buy things just because they’re on sale, steer clear, as these sites can turn your computers into a money pit.
RetailMeNot.com, for example, has shopping tips for certain stores, as well as a separate forum for shoppers to trade details on one-day sales and new markdowns. Sensible for people who have been eyeing those fabulous but otherwise too-expensive jeans. Not so much for people who just like to browse.
One nifty thing RetailMeNot.com does have is a downloadable browser application that alerts you to promotions and coupons when you are on a retailer’s Web site. If you don’t mind the extra software, it may be a good way to ensure savings even if you forget to consult a coupon site pre-checkout. RetailMeNot.com also provides success rates for coupon codes so you know whether that hot 30% off code at J.Crew is likely to work when it comes time to check out.
Of course, coupon sites aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be in terms of actual bargains. Some ask contributors to send in those alphanumeric codes they get after making purchases, the ones that promise a percentage off the person’s next purchase above and beyond other promotions. But they also include nothing-special “savings.” Right now, AnyCoupons.com (along with a half-dozen other sites) lists free shipping on purchases totaling $150 or more at Banana Republic. But the store’s own Web site advertises that one, and has done so for at least a few weeks. Because so many stores are discounting deeply and offering incentives, make sure to check out the sidebars on retailers’ own sites for discount codes.