Online buyers crack the code on deals
By Jayne O'Donnell,
For budget-minded shoppers, few feelings are more deflating than noticing a sale going on - and realizing that they're missing out on it.
Happily, consumers who shop online stand to benefit from websites that list coupon or promotion codes for the taking. At any time, up to 75% of online retailers offer a place to log in a discount code before checkout, experts estimate. Several sites - Currentcodes.com, RetailMeNot.com, CouponCabin.com and BradsDeals.com, among them - help make sure you seldom have to pay without adding a discount first, if one exists.
A recent RetailMeNot survey of 4,000 site users found that the average discounted purchase price was $151, and the average savings was $29, making the minute or so to search for a code well worth the effort.
Keep in mind that the mere fact that a website includes a spot for a promotion code near the area where you pay doesn't mean a discount is actually available. But it does signal that the retailer occasionally - or often - offers one. So it's worth checking.
Csilla Dunn, a 31-year-old mother in Greensboro, N.C., says she does most of her shopping online because of the stresses of shopping in stores with two toddlers. She tries never to click "purchase" without first checking for promotional codes and typically goes first to RetailMeNot, her favorite such site.
Over the holidays, she scored her biggest deal when she used RetailMeNot to save about 25% and enjoy free shipping for a $200 order from Sephora.com. After such deals, Dunn will often post a comment on RetailMeNot, recommending the deal to others.
"People power makes ours a better site," says Guy King, an Australian Web developer who founded the site about a year ago after running into trouble himself finding discount codes online. King says consumers each day submit 200 to 300 codes to the site. (There were 71,000 coupons from 13,000 merchants available on RetailMeNot this week.)
Brad Wilson, who founded Brad's Deals while a student at the University of North Carolina, says his staff's searching power sets his site apart. Wilson, 27, and about eight employees comb the Internet for the best deals; about 2,400 codes were featured earlier this week. They use software that tracks price changes on websites, raising the likelihood that they'll be flagged when stores such as Ann Taylor offer $50 off purchases of $100 or more, as the retailer did this week.
Wilson's staffers will also do a free comprehensive Web search for consumers who want to be sure they're getting the best deal possible on, say, a dishwasher. That's essentially how Wilson got started in college: helping dorm mates buy computers as cheaply as he was able to.
The coupon sites don't charge users; they support themselves in a variety of ways, ranging from selling ads to sharing revenue with companies whose codes appear on the site. Up to 20% of RetailMeNot's coupons are offered through networks of businesses that grant commissions to the site for helping sell their products.
Wilson says his site receives a small cut of sales from about half the retailers whose codes are featured and hopes to earn a percentage of all sales eventually. (The site's cut is about 1% on big-ticket items and maybe 3% or 4% on smaller ones.)
He says the deals his site features prominently are highlighted because they're the best, as judged by the number of times consumers have clicked on them or because Wilson and his staff think they are most valuable - not because the site has any financial arrangement with the retailer. Monday, Wilson decided to feature half-price Major League Baseball hats from Amazon because it seemed like a timely offering to coincide with the start of baseball season.
No matter where you get your codes, King says, the deals that come with online coupons are "an easy win." But only if you do your homework. Here are some tips from the experts:
•Never go to online checkout without first visiting a coupon-code website - or several - to see if there's a deal to be had.
•Do price comparisons of the product you're buying even if the deal already sounds good. Without a discount, it might not be the best price out there. Google's Froogle is among many price-comparison sites.
•Factor in whether free shipping or a discount is more valuable before choosing one promotion over another if you're allowed only one such discount.
•Try to "stack coupons" - that is, bundle several codes together for more savings. Many online stores allow this, so it's "always worth trying," King says.
"The retailers are having a tough time moving things, so they need to cut prices," Wilson notes. "More often than not, there's some store somewhere that is running a sale."
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