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Nine tricks for getting the most out of online coupon codes
Terri Lynn always searches for a promo code before completing any online purchase. “It’s part of my DNA. I’m not obsessed, it’s just something I do as part of my shopping routine,” says the media relations consultant in Naples, Fla. Lynn is such a fan of codes that if she sees something she likes in a department store, she’ll make a note of it, go home to her computer and search for a coupon code. “In the course of a year, I’ve saved thousands, and that’s not shopping excessively.”
Austin Varley rarely makes it into department stores. The self-described “huge online shopper” buys everything, including groceries, through his computer or smartphone. “I have limited time in my day to get things done. Online shopping saves me valuable time, and coupon codes save me even more money,” says Varley, owner of a Scottsdale, Ariz., advertising agency.
Determine whether a retailer uses codes. Says Lynn, “When I go to check out, if it shows a box asking for a promo code, 99 percent of the time that means there’s a coupon out there. I’m going to find it.”
Use a trusted source. Sure, you can search for “retailer name + promo code,” but you’ll probably get hundreds of results. The better path is to check websites such as RetailMeNot, DealsPlus, Coupon Cabin and Slickdeals. These sites work with thousands of retailers and brands, as well as user submissions, to aggregate sales and codes. At RetailMeNot, all codes are tested and verified before being published. In addition, the site solicits input from users who can indicate a thumbs up or thumbs down to rate a code’s usability, making it easy for you to see how often the code works. Other code-centric websites operate in a similar fashion. For example, Slickdeals puts a green check mark next to a verified code.
Install a browser extension. Among the most popular are Wikibuy and Honey. They automate the process. For instance, when you get to the checkout of an online store, you click on the Wikibuy icon and it tries every available promo code in a few seconds, selects the offer with the most savings and applies it. While there are no guarantees that a working code will be available, these shopping tools quickly not only find codes, but also perform the tedious task of copying and pasting them one at a time. One caveat with these browser extensions: They track a copious amount of your personal information, so be sure to read the fine print before installing.
Play hard to get. If you can’t find a code, one of Varley’s favorite strategies is to choose your items, fill your virtual shopping cart and, at checkout, “abandon” it, though bookmark the cart’s URL because you may need it later. “If you leave, a majority of companies will follow you across the Internet with ads giving you a discount off what you had in your cart. It’s called a retargeting ad and used all the time in e-commerce space,” he says. Once you have the code, simply click on the saved URL and apply it. With some stores, you may also get an email urging you to complete the transaction with a discount code as an incentive.