The Latest Online Coupon Craze: Discounts on Stuff You Actually Need

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Thus far, the fastest-growing online coupons have tended to be for deals on restaurants, spa treatments, and impulse type buys—fun stuff that consumers probably wouldn’t have otherwise bought if a deal hadn’t presented itself (and stuff they often regret purchasing, even at a discount). Trend-wise, it’s looked like these flash “deals” would continue getting more expensive, out-of-reach, and impractical: A $10,000 coupon (half off a $20K hotel package) was offered by LivingSocial, and GiltCity just sold out on $30,000 wedding packages in New York City and private tours on the set of “Entourage” in L.A. At the same time, several coupon companies are heading in the opposite direction, with online coupons that are readily available and nothing if not practical—for supermarket staples such as cereal, frozen pizza, trash bags, and canned soup.

They’re not as sexy as penthouse hotel packages or meet-and-greets with TV stars, and these online coupons may only knock 50¢ or $1 off here and there, not $10,000 in one fell swoop. Yet these small-time coupons add up, and they’re far better for your finances because they’re discounts on stuff you’d already be buying anyway. No matter how good the deal on a splurge, it’s always a net loss because the money spent would have otherwise been saved.

The NY Times reports that the Catalina Marketing Company—which offers coupons in magazines and penny savers and publishes those coupon booklets in Sunday newspapers—has introduced CouponNetwork.com. Once you register at the site (free), you can place any coupon you like—for products from big manufacturers such as Nestle, Fisher-Price, General Mills, and Pillsbury—in a cart, and then print them out before heading to the supermarket. Sometimes the coupons offer discounts for that shopping trip, while other times the coupons come with “YourBucks,” which give discounts on groceries on the next visit to the store.

For bargain-hunting shoppers, the main attraction here is that there’s no need to clip coupons from newspapers and magazines. You pick the coupons you want, and print only the ones you expect to use.

Getting coupons this way is obviously a help, though there will be some shoppers who find themselves in need of coupons for printer ink (that stuff’s expensive).

The Boston Globe, meanwhile, announced yesterday’s introduction of SavingStar.com, a new online coupon service with no clipping or printing required. The service works with retailers such as CVS, Stop & Shop, and Shaw’s, and again, the focus is getting discounts on practical items consumers buy all the time:

“It is not about daily deals at your local tanning salon,” said David Rochon, chief executive of SavingStar. “We’re talking about what people are buying every day.”

These products include Ball Park hot dogs, Snuggle fabric softener, Charmin toilet paper, Bounty paper towels, and GLAD trash bags. No wedding packages or celeb sightings or $10,000 coupons to be found.

To get discounts via SavingStar, a shopper heads to the website or smartphone app, and punches in his loyalty card numbers for the supermarket or drugstore soon to be visited. Then, he clicks on the products listed at a discount at SavingStar he plans on buying. When the loyalty card is swiped at the store, the discount isn’t figured in at the register. Instead, it’s deposited in a SavingStar account, which can be transferred to a regular bank account or redeemed in various ways—an Amazon gift certificate, for example, that can be used however you please. Perhaps a season’s worth of “Entourage” on DVD? That’s almost as good as a private tour of the set, right?

READ MORE:
Daily Deal Overkill: Are Consumers Already Over Groupon and the Rest of the Flash Deal Sites?

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