A Beginner’s Guide to Online Couponing

Online coupons allow you to save without leaving your home computer—and eliminate the time required to clip and redeem traditional coupon offers.

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Couponing has always been a key ingredient when it comes to saving money on purchases. However, coupon strategies have shifted dramatically in recent years. With the popularity of online shopping, you’re no longer required to spend hours clipping coupons from Sunday newspaper. Online coupons allow you to save without leaving your home computer—and eliminate the time required to clip and redeem traditional coupon offers. Here are the basics on the various types of online coupons and where to find them:

Coupon codes. The first type of online coupon is also the most popular; they’re called “coupon codes” and are offered by 75 percent of online retailers to encourage spending and brand loyalty. The most popular coupon codes offer free shipping or a flat percentage off your order total (with no minimum purchase required).

You simply type the code into the designated box when checking out at the retailer’s website. The box might also be titled promotional code, discount code or online coupon key and is typically found on the payment or billing page. You never want to enter your credit card information or finalize your purchase until you are sure your coupon code has been accepted. Otherwise, it can be difficult to go back and try get your discount if the code was entered incorrectly or has expired.

Embedded coupon offers. The next type of online coupon is an embedded coupon, which does not have a code attached to it. These are often included in a retailer’s free newsletter, which you have to subscribe to. Simply click on the offer and it takes you to the retailer’s website, where the discount is automatically applied to your purchase. Remember to verify your discount went through and read the fine print with these offers, since they sometimes exclude certain brands or clearance items.

Site-wide promotions. These promotions are fairly self-explanatory and include things like “Spring Sale: Save up to 55 percent off your online purchase.” There’s no coupon code required. The key, though, to banking significant online savings is combining a coupon code with a site-wide promotion. You can save upwards of 80 percent off your purchase and often get free shipping included.

Where to find online coupons. Google, naturally, is a good starting point. Simply type in the store name, plus the word coupons, and you’ll likely discover coupon websites that update regularly and test coupon codes before adding them. Bookmark the good sites and remember to check them before you finalize your online purchase.

If you have a few favorite retailers, sign up for their free newsletter, follow them on Twitter and “like” their page on Facebook, as these outlets are another way to monitor for great coupons.

Mobile apps. Some coupon aggregators have free apps that can get you online coupons, as well as in-store coupons directly on your phone. For an in-store coupon, as the cashier simply scans the barcode on your phone and the savings are applied instantly. Popular stores offering in-store coupons on smartphone apps include Old Navy, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Home Depot, Lands’ End, Payless Shoes and Toys R Us.

Kyle James operates a coupon website called Rather-Be-Shopping.com which offers free coupon codes to more than 800 popular stores. The site also has a brand new iPhone coupon app which helps consumers save money directly from their smartphone.