These days, it's safe to assume that most consumers are looking to save a buck or two. And for a whole host of Internet entrepreneurs, that spells an opportunity.
A slew of new web sites offering coupons and online promotions are flooding the Internet. And while these sites offer a wide breadth of discounts, they're also causing a lot of confusion among shoppers, making it more difficult to weed out the really good deals from the duds. "There are hundreds, if not thousands of coupon sites out there offering the exact same thing," says Edgar Dworsky, founder of consumer advocacy site Consumer World.
The proliferation of these sites isn't just about about saving shoppers money. As part of so-called affiliate marketing programs, retailers offer cash to these web entrepreneurs each time they get a consumer to make a purchase on their store's site. The enticement these sites use: coupons and other discounts. Each site uses a unique promotional code so the retailers know where the customer is coming from. Usually, though, that's the only differentiating factor among these discount sites. Most of the underlying deals are identical.
While choosing among hundreds of discounts may not seem like a bad thing at first, it's the relative sameness of these sites that makes it hard for shoppers to find the best deals and discern whether the offers they see are legit or not, notes Mary Hunt, founder of money management site Debt Proof Living. Some have more extensive retailer partnerships and therefore offer a broader range of deals. Others are more diligent about updating offers and weeding out expired coupons.
We asked Dworsky, Hunt and other consumer advocates and deal hunters to point out the free coupon sites they turn to purchase after purchase. Here are five worth bookmarking:
Why the experts like it: Coupons.com offers as wide a variety of timely coupons as you'd find in the grocery shoppers' gold standard: the Sunday paper, says Dworsky. Phil Lempert, founder of news site Supermarket Guru, praises the site's simple layout, which makes it easy to browse available coupons, and then print them out for in-store use. Enter your zip code for area-specific deals. There's just one minor drawback: "There are still some retailers that will not accept Internet coupons," cautions Lempert. Check that your supermarket does so before downloading the site's coupon-printing software.
Sample deal: Save $2 on two jumbo packs of Huggies Supreme diapers.
Why the experts like it: CouponCabin.com keeps its discount fare fresh, says Linda Sherry, a spokeswoman for Consumer Action, a consumer advocate. Staffers update deals three times a day, and frequently check each coupon code to ensure it works. Sections for "most-used coupons" and "favorite deals" point shoppers toward the best ongoing promotions at online retailers. An added bonus: A weekly email newsletter alerts consumers to the latest deals every Monday.
Sample deal: Link to Eddie Bauer's web site through CouponCabin.com and use coupon code "Perfect" at checkout to save 30% and receive free shipping. Offer expires Dec. 31.
Why the experts like it: CouponMom.com covers a lot of ground, listing online coupon codes, printout coupons and free samples, among other types of discounts. And while other sites are riddled with offers and banner ads, CouponMom.com's simple design makes finding discounts easy, says Garen Daly, host of Massachusetts-based radio show "Frugal Yankee." Deals are reliably accurate, too, adds Tawra Kellam, founder of frugal living newsletter Living on a Dime. Members can find all available coupons from several sources using the virtual coupon organizer. Sign up for email alerts on sales at favorite retailers, or on a shopping-list staple like the kids' favorite brand of peanut butter.
Sample deal: Link to discount gift certificate site Restaurants.com through CouponMom.com and save an added 40% on any restaurant gift certificate order. (Shoppers pay $6 for a $25 gift certificate, instead of the regular already discounted rate of $10.) Ongoing deal.
Why the experts like it: RetailMeNot.com's dedicated community is what makes this site stand out. Users indicate whether a discount code worked for them or not, helping shoppers quickly filter out bad deals, says Hunt. They also add comments, pointing out when a code last worked, or any strings attached. "It's pretty darn reliable," she says. Email alerts notify you when new codes are posted for your favorite retailers.
Sample deal: Save 20% off neighborhood car rentals from Enterprise using code "ETC7HC." Offer expires Dec. 20.
Why the experts like it: SmartSource.com merges local store sales and a wide array of printout coupons and online deals to help consumers maximize savings, says Lisa Lee Freeman, editor in chief of Consumer Reports' ShopSmart magazine. The selection is great, and entering your zip code yields even more deals specific to your area. (As with Coupons.com, check that the supermarket accepts printout web coupons before downloading the software.)
Sample deal: Save $3 on Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)