Online Shoppers Can Crack the Code for Savings

Providers of online coupon codes tell how to get extra discounts quickly and easily, and point out the pitfalls that shoppers should avoid.
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So you're shopping online, surfing the websites of competing stores and product brands without leaving your home. At last you've zeroed in on just the right CD player, or shoes, or car tires, and you're ready to buy. Pretty smart, shopping, you say?

Yes, but you could make it even smarter. Before you point and click on the buy now box, look for the adjacent space that asks you to enter a coupon code -- it might also be called a shopping code or a promotional code -- to get an extra discount. If you had such a code you would gladly enter it, right?

Good news: that special code might be just a few more mouse clicks away. Internet shoppers who are hip to coupon codes never make a purchase without first surfing sites such as currentcodes.com and couponcode.com for an online coupon.

If they find a matching coupon they write down its code -- a short series of letters or numbers -- then go back to the merchant's website, type in the code, get the discount, and make the buy. Or, if their search turns up a coupon with a bigger discount on a competing merchant's site, they buy there instead.

A list of large coupon code websites can be found by typing "coupon code" into your search engine. The codes are easy to use, and couponcabin.com even offers a step-by-step tutorial that should leave even the most nervous shopper brimming with confidence.

But there are pitfalls, and coupon code providers offer these tips:

  • When you find the coupon code you want to use, check its expiration date. Many coupon sites are littered with out-of-date codes, but the expiration dates will be plainly marked.

  • Write down the coupon code and type it into the box, instead of copying the code and pasting it. The copy-and-paste method often leaves a tiny blank space before or after the code, making it "invisible" to the merchant's Web master. If you don't type in the code exactly, you won't get the discount.

  • Before finalizing your purchase, take one last look at the price of the item to make sure you've entered the coupon code properly and received the discount.

  • Look for coupon Web sites with privacy policies that promise not to give your identifying information (like an e-mail address) to any third parties. Keeping such information to yourself can save you from receiving floods of spam advertising e-mails.

Barry Boone, managing partner of currentcodes.com, advises you to look over the privacy policy of the website of the merchant as well, if it's a smaller or lesser known merchant.

"Coupon Bella," founder of couponb.com, adds that once you are comfortable with a coupon Web site, you can develop a meaningful ongoing relationship with it.

"Find a reputable coupon Web site that you have positive shopping experiences with and sign up for their coupon alerts," Bella advises.

Market researchers say only about 12 percent of the country's Internet users visit coupon sites, but the practice is on the rise. As shoppers surf for coupon codes, they also find thousands of conventional coupons that can be printed and used in regular old-fashioned stores, or used online with no code necessary.

Steven Boal, co-founder of coupons.com, reiterated that shoppers should look at a site's privacy policy, and look for logos of e-business watchdogs such as TRUSTe or the Better Business Bureau.

He urged against sites that ask you to register, or show you a page of unrelated offers, say, to quit smoking or lower your debt. You might be getting set up for a good spamming by the companies behind the offers.

The coupon sites make it easy for Internet users to "window shop" for bargains even when they don't have a particular product in mind. And Todd Leiser, general manager of valpak.com, says consumers can search for conventional store coupons by town or zip code, perhaps finding a discount oil change near their workplace instead of near their home, or finding a deal on a restaurant meal while they are on the road. "The Internet gives them that flexibility," he says.

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