Personal Finance

Digital coupons rise in popularity

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Couponing has evolved from the days of simply snipping away at the Sunday newspaper. Now mobile apps, digital coupons and text message discounts are providing shoppers a fistful of money-saving tools they can access from their mobile devices.

About 87 percent of U.S. smartphone and tablet owners use their devices to shop, and nearly half of smartphone users have used mobile coupons, according to Nielsen’s Digital Consumer Report. In 2014, 47.1 million consumers will redeem a coupon on their smartphones, according to Business Insider.

“Almost every retail website has online coupons or a link to a mobile app,” said Mary Pat Pankoke of Parkland, founder of CouponClasses.com. “It can be a real disadvantage if you don’t have a smartphone.”

While paper coupons and printable coupons are still popular, Pankoke said retailers are trying to make savings opportunities more accessible by mobile device.

And that’s just fine with Renee DeLotta, a Cooper City mom of two, who used to clip stacks of paper coupons and then forget them at home.

“Traditional coupon clipping is just way too time consuming for me,” DeLotta said. “Digital coupons are beneficial because you can’t leave them at home on accident, and you have access to them even on an unplanned trip to the grocery store.”

Retailers are trying to tie digital couponing into a more seamless shopping experience.

“Customers are savvier than ever when it comes to finding the best deals,” said Molly Blakeman, a Walmart spokeswoman. “They are using technology to do their research.”

Publix shoppers can browse coupons online on the store’s mobile app, and check off the digital coupons they want to use before they hit the grocery aisle. “Provide your phone number to our front service clerks as you check out,” said Nicole Krauss, a Publix spokeswoman. “You’ll see the savings on your receipt.”

While opportunities for discounts look more abundant, it also can be a way for retailers to pull back on the discounts they offer, Pankoke said.

Stacking, which means using a manufacturer’s coupon and a store coupon for the same item, can be affected, depending on the retailer.

For example, some retailers provide digital manufacturer’s coupons. If you use one at checkout, you can’t double-dip and hand over a manufacturer’s coupon you clipped from your newspaper for the same item, she said. It’s one or the other.

“It can be more limiting,” Pankoke said. “Yes it’s convenient, but I can only use one. If I can print my coupons, I have the opportunity to print and use more than one.”

Pankoke favors the digital savings at Target, because the retailer offers mobile coupons that you can get by text message, plus a mobile app called Cartwheel that gives you percent-off discounts on certain items. “And you can stack — use the Target mobile coupon with Cartwheel and a manufacturer’s coupon — giving you three ways to save,” she said.

Another avenue for discounts is through apps like Ibotta and Snap (by Groupon), which offer money back for buying certain items. You scan in your receipt and rack up cash, Pankoke said.

Here are ways to snag digital deals at local retailers:

▪ CVS Pharmacy: Log on to CVS.com or use the CVS app to access online and mobile coupons and sign up for emailed coupons. Members of the store’s loyalty program, ExtraCare, can have digital coupons tied in to their account, which gives 2 percent back on most in-store purchases.

▪ Navarro Discount Pharmacy: Sign up for coupons and special offers in English or Spanish or download the weekly print ad at Navarro.com. Navarro’s Rx app offers coupons, rebates and information on store events and free health screenings. The retailer’s Facebook page has coupons, text offers and contests.

▪ Publix: Select digital coupons at Publix.com/save or on the store’s smartphone app and access them in the store by giving your phone number at checkout.

▪ Target: Choose and print coupons at Coupons.Target.com or use Target’s Cartwheel app to select coupons or see limited-time “hot deals.” Text COUPONS to 827438 (Target) to receive coupons by text message.

▪ Walgreens: Sign up for the store’s Balance Rewards program at Walgreens.com or on its mobile app for coupons, instant savings and to earn points that can be used to buy merchandise. Members also can earn points for healthy choices such as weight management and exercise.

▪ Walmart: Open the Walmart app inside a store, enter “store mode” and find sales and promotions specific to that location. Use the app to scan your receipt, and the Walmart Savings Catcher will compare prices with local competitors. If a competitor has a lower advertised price, you get the difference paid on an eGift card.

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