Are you ready for paperless coupons?
More deals coming via cell phone or loyalty card
We've all done it: stopped by a store or restaurant unexpectedly and then realized we had a coupon at home.
Now there's an app for that.
More retailers are making coupons available via cell phone. Mobile coupons -- usually text messages with discount codes -- are becoming the blue-light specials for the digital age, promoting last-minute clothing sales, two-for-one entrees and cheap tickets to the theater, The New York Times reported.
The mobile deals particularly appeal to young people, many of whom have never used paper coupons.
We've written about several food deals with a mobile phone version of the coupon. T.G.I. Friday's coupons nearly always have a way to get the coupon via text message. Then you show the message to your server. Cheap Stingy Bargains has some tips on how to get coupons on your mobile phone.
Use of electronic discounts and coupons more than doubled in the first half of 2009, compared with the same period last year, as overall coupon use rose 23 percent, according to the coupon-processing company Inmar. Electronic coupons now account for more than 3 percent of all coupons used, up from roughly 2 percent in 2008, The Associated Press reported.
A number of mobile coupon aggregators have sprung up, including 8coupons, Cellfire, Yowza and Zavers. There are also some smartphone applications. We looked at Cellfire, but it only had a few offers in our area, from Sears, Payless and 1-800-Flowers. Valpak coupons are available on smartphones, and we found some of those for our neighborhood -- though they come with a disclaimer that not all merchants will honor the mobile version of the coupon.
The other major growth in electronic coupons has been coupons tied to supermarket loyalty cards. You choose the coupons you want on your home computer, type in your loyalty card number, and the savings are rung up when you swipe the card at the register.
This week, A&P and affiliated chains in the Northeast became the latest group of grocery stores to begin using digital coupons. Starting Friday, Sept. 11, the chains are giving free reusable Elizabeth Haub Foundation shopping bags to customers who register for the Red Tag Online Savings program.
Those chains join Safeway (and related chains such as Von's and Pavilion), which rolled out the CouponLink program in June, and Kroger, which began experimenting with paperless coupons in late 2007.
We think the loyalty card programs sound intriguing but our grocery chain doesn't have a loyalty card, so we'll have to find another way to get digital coupons. Have you tried digital coupons, either via your mobile phone or store loyalty cards? Do you think the programs will someday overtake paper coupons? Or is paper here to stay?
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Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
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A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
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