Eek! E-Coupons!

Jill Cataldo saves hundreds on groceries by making the most of the common coupon. You can, too. Here's how.

Most shoppers use traditional paper coupons found in the newspaper when they shop for groceries and other consumer packaged goods. Almost 90 percent of all coupons redeemed in 2011 were distributed in freestanding newspaper inserts, according to a report from NCH Marketing Services, Inc. The same study notes that digital coupons, whether print-at-home or electronic, accounted for about 1 percent of all coupons distributed last year in the United States.

It's safe to say that paper coupons aren't going away any time soon, but digital coupons are on the rise. E-coupons are paperless, electronic coupons can be loaded to a store loyalty card or account via an online interface or phone app. Shoppers simply click or touch the coupons they wish to use. When your purchases are scanned at checkout, the coupons you've selected are deducted automatically.

At least, that's what's supposed to happen. But what if it doesn't?

Dear Jill,

I hope you can help. I don't trust these new e-coupons. The big grocery store in our area has a phone app that lets you load the coupons to your card, or you can load them on the store's website. But sometimes the coupon's value doesn't come off when I scan my card at checkout.

I've had some bad experiences where the store doesn't want to fix this issue. Unless you show them the phone app or print out your coupons, they won't do anything. I think it's easier to use paper coupons. I know when those work because I see them get scanned. What do you do if e-coupons don't work? - Geri S.

Dear Geri,

Oh, the security of a paper coupon! As you noted, if a paper coupon doesn't scan at the register, a cashier can usually handle the issue quickly and effectively. But since you don't see the e-coupon deducted, the first indication that something went wrong takes place post-checkout, when you check your receipt.

If you use e-coupons, have a backup plan in case they aren't deducted. If you loaded them with a smartphone app, open the app in the store and show an employee the e-coupon you're trying to use. If you don't have a smartphone, print a copy of the e-coupon discounts currently loaded to your card before you hit the store.

If you use e-coupons provided by a third party, instead of e-coupons provided by your store, you may need to contact that company directly if your discounts don't appear. Popular websites such as cellfire.com and savingstar.com offer load-to-card e-coupons for a variety of manufacturers and stores. If you have issues with e-coupons on either site, save your receipt and contact that site's customer service.

In some cases, e-coupons take time to apply. SavingStar's e-coupons are not immediately applied at the register. Instead, the savings are deposited to your SavingStar account within 30 days of purchase. Once your accumulated savings reach $5, the money is deposited into your bank or PayPal account, onto an Amazon gift card or as a donation to American Forests.

I'm often asked if e-coupons will replace paper coupons altogether. As our world continues to embrace all things digital, I'm sure electronic coupons will grow in popularity. A new audience of consumers will embrace coupons that can be loaded and used with the touch of a fingertip.

I attended an industry conference recently, and one manufacturer's representative expressed his concern that an e-coupon may not be as compelling as a paper coupon. He said, "When you hold a paper coupon in your hand, you remember to use it because you see the product, see the photo and know when it expires. Are shoppers as motivated to use an electronic coupon?" Time will tell.


Jill Cataldo Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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